The Facts About Child Care Assistance

Child care assistance exists to help with child care costs for families below a certain income level, who work, go to school, or are in a work training program. There are often several different agencies that are responsible for the administration of this type of grant. It is often possible to apply under different qualifications, each of which might have different requirements and different waiting lists.

I share this information with you, because I sincerely wish that I had known that you could apply with more than one agency the first time I applied for child care assistance. My girls were 2 and 4, I applied and was placed on a waiting list. I stayed on that waiting list for three years, at which time I had to re-apply, because both of my kids were in school and I no longer needed full time child care. The waiting list continued, despite repeated phone calls. Finally, nine years later, I was approved. By then, my oldest was too old for child care, and my youngest was 4 weeks away from being too old for child care.

Like all of us, in that time period, I had paid thousands of dollars in child care.

What made this frustrating, is that this whole time, I was working full-time and getting a very small amount of food stamps. Seriously, it was never more than 50 dollars a month. If I had applied through the Department of Health and Human services ( the food stamp/Medicaid/TANF office in Texas), I could have gotten child care assistance if I had known to apply for the Welfare-To-Work program they had at the time.

The moral to that story is that, even if you don’t think they offer it, you should always ask about resources. If your local Human Services office doesn’t provide what you’re looking for, they may very well have a list of which agencies do. After the fact, I discovered that three different agencies offered some sort of child care assistance, in addition to grants that were given to individual child care programs, including the one at the elementary school that my girls went to.

How Does Child Care Assistance Work?

Child care assistance works by paying for either a portion of your child care bill, or the entire bill, depending on your own circumstances. It is often the result of an application for TANF, as in order to receive cash assistance from the state you are typically required to work or be in school a certain number of hours a week in an approved program. You might also be eligible for child care assistance when looking for work, if you are eligible for unemployment benefits. Child care assistance is usually only available for licensed, certified, or registered centers. This means they will almost never pay your friend or neighbor to watch your child. In some cases, they might pay a family member to watch your kids, though.

You can, and should, apply for child care assistance at as many places as possible, and then follow-up. If you are in school, and there is a child care on campus, ask if they are aware of any special grants.

The university I went to had child care grants for single parents who were pursuing technical degrees, and had at least a 3.0 GPA. That wasn’t me, unfortunately, but what I found interesting is that their grants weren’t advertised, and each year, thousands of dollars went unused.

If you’re not in school, ask at your children’s day care. They always know where the extra funding is, because they deposit the checks every month. Ask if there is anything you can do to speed up the application process, or the waiting list. I would happily have waived the small amount of food stamps I got when my kids were young, in order to get free or discounted child care.

Child care is expensive, and as single parents, we need quality, affordable child care. All too frequently, it seems like we have to sacrifice one for the other, and that’s a hard decision. When you’re already on a tight budget, you can’t not pay your rent or utility bills, so you can pay more for child care. On the other hand, your kids need to be safe and well taken care of. Child care assistance exists to help us end that quandary. It’s real and it’s out there. Go get it!