One of the most important decisions you will ever make as a parent or guardian is choosing quality, affordable child care.
Quality of care makes a huge impact on the child’s readiness for school, which impacts his or her success throughout school and later in life.
It also gives parents the support and peace of mind they need to work and earn a living.
The average fee for full-time care ranges from approximately $4,800 to $17,000 a year, depending on where the family lives, the type of care, and the age of the child.1
With only one income, the average cost of child care is far out of reach for single mothers, especially for those with two or more children.
Child care assistance can help families with these high child care costs — particularly low-income families that might not otherwise be able to afford child care on their own.
1 State Assistance
State child care assistance program helps eligible families pay for child care while working or attending school. The program pays for part of the child care costs, while you co-pay for a portion based on the size of the family and the amount of your income.
Each state has its own eligibility guidelines but in most cases, you may apply for assistance if
- You need child care to work, attend school, or receive training;
- Your income is not greater than the income limit set by your state;
- Your child is younger than 13 years; and/or
- Your child has a special need or is under court supervision and is younger than 19 years.
Most states require families receiving daycare assistance to contribute toward their child care costs based on a sliding fee scale that is designed to charge higher co-payments to families with higher income.
However, keep in mind that even if you are eligible for child care assistance, you may not necessarily receive it. Families on the waiting list may wait for months before receiving assistance, or may never receive it.2
What If I Don’t Qualify for Assistance?
If you’ve applied for child care assistance in your state and don’t qualify or there is a wait list, you may want to research some lower-cost child care options where you live.
One such option is the Family Child Care Homes. The average cost of care at a licensed Family Child Care (FCC) home is often less expensive than a typical child care center, but rates within your local community can vary widely.
Ask your local CCR&R for a list of Family Child Care homes. Once you have your list, be sure to ask about cost, availability, and to set up a visit.
Other Options for Daycare Assistance
2 Head Start
Head Start is a federal program that helps children ages birth to five years old from low income families prepare for school. In addition to education, the program provides health, nutrition, and social services depending on your family’s needs.
Eligibility is largely income–based in which families must earn less than 130% of the federal poverty level. Families with circumstances such as homelessness, children in foster care, or receiving TANF or SSI may also qualify.
To find a Head Start near you, use the Head Start Locator or call 1-866-763-6481 (toll-free) for more information on how to apply.
3 pre-Kindergarten Program
Some states3 may have pre-K programs that are designed to give 3- and 4-year-old children the experiences they need to be ready for kindergarten. These programs usually last 2½ to 6 hours of a school day.
Although pre-Kindergarten is free, there is typically a charge for before- and after-school care to complete day for working families and there is often a waiting list in place.
To find out if there is such program in your area and whether you are eligible to participate in pre-K program, contact your local elementary school.
4 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program assists families with children whose parents or responsible caregivers cannot provide for the family’s basic needs.
If you’re already on temporary assistance and need child care to go to work, you are most likely guaranteed assistance in paying for child care.
For example, New Hampshire’s families applying for child care assistance who receive Financial Assistance to Needy Families (FANF) will be given priority and will not be placed on the wait list.
5 Child and Dependent Care Credit
For those who could afford private childcare are entitled to federal tax credit. The Child and Dependent Care Credit covered up to 35% of qualifying expenses, based on adjusted gross income.
You could claim as much as $3,000 in annual expenses for one qualifying child or $6,000 for two or more qualifying children when you are calculating your tax.
To claim the credit, attach Form 2441 to your tax return or IRS e-file to file your return and the software will automate this for you.
In addition, many states have their own EITC and Dependent Care tax credits which allow you to lower your taxes, or receive credits even if you do not owe taxes.
6 Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
If you work for a company that offers an FSA, opening and funding a dependent care FSA allows you to use pre-tax dollars — up to $5,000, to pay for eligible FSA expenses, such as day care, preschool, or after-school care.
The main draw of an FSA is that the money set aside in the account is pre-tax, thus lowering the amount of your taxable income. For someone in the 28% federal tax bracket, this means saving $280 for every $1,000 spent on dependent care with an FSA.
FSAs operate with a “use it or lose it” policy, meaning if you sign up to have $3,000 put in your FSA and you only spend $2,000 on childcare that year, you’ll lose $1,000.
If you decide to enroll, it’s advisable that you first compare its potential tax benefits with the child and dependent care tax credit and see which options are best for your individual situation.
This worksheet will probably help you decide which program is best for you.
7 Child Support
For millions of children, child support can be an important source of income. As a single mother, you are, by law, entitled to claim maintenance from the child’s father, on behalf of the child.
Child support matters are generally handled by state and local authorities, and not by the federal government. For this reason, child support issues should be reported to state and local law enforcement authorities.
If you’re not receiving child support, your local Child Support Enforcement Agency can assist you in collecting ‘unpaid’ child support payments, helping you make ends meet and afford the right care for your child.
8 Child Care Aware® of America
Child Care Aware® of America is an organization that can help you locate safe and affordable child care in your ZIP code. It does this by connecting parents with child care providers throughout the country.
If you don’t already have one, a child care budgeting calculator, and a decision making tool are also made available to help you get an idea of your monthly budget.
Visit their web site at ChildCareAware.org or call 1-800-424-2246 to locate an agency near you & ask for help in finding providers in your area.
- How much does the state pay for child care?
- NWLC, State Child Care Assistance Policies 2014
- The New York Times, Preschool Push Moving Ahead in Many States