Even the most affordable options have risen by about 70% during that period, costing as much as $170 a week. The United States government is aware that many low-income families are unable to cover these costs. A group of federal and regional programs have been created to help them alleviate the cost of providing good care to their children.
Through these assistance programs, low income families can receive financial support to provide quality education and healthcare to their children. In this guide, we cover the most common programs, the benefits they provide, as well as the steps to take advantage of them.
Head Start and Pre-K Programs
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) operates two twin programs designed to assist children from birth to age five. Called “Head Start” (HS) and “Early Head Start” (EHS), they promote early school readiness for children of families going through financial hardship and who cannot leave work to raise them. Both programs include a variety of services that assist children with their mental, social and emotional development.
Pre kindergarten programs, better known as Pre-K, are also part of the Head Start funding package in some states. They provide additional financial support with the early education of children who are between three and five years old. This financial assistance is often given at no cost, and families can choose from half-day and full-day options.
Children’s Health Insurance Program
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, provides high-quality health insurance to more than ten million children across the country. It was signed into law in 1997 by President Bill Clinton to provide coverage for families who have children but whose annual income is too high to make them eligible for Medicaid.
Like Medicaid, CHIP coverage includes many benefits within its insurance packages, such as routine check-ups, prescriptions, dental and vision care, laboratory and X-ray, and emergency services. Each state offers its own services package, although most of the basic benefits are available in all fifty states in order to comply with federal guidelines.
How to Qualify
Head Start and Pre-K programs have specific requirements set by the states that fund them. Generally, states grant the benefits to families who fall within the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). In 2018, someone earning less than $12,140 would fall below the poverty level in most states. Some local agencies consider additional factors such as average education costs within the state, as well as median annual income, to determine eligibility.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program has eligibility requirements closely aligned with Medicaid. Families, or their children, become eligible for CHIP benefits, if their total annual income is at around 200% of the federal poverty level. As an example, a family of three would have to make less than $35,000 a year to qualify for the benefits. Some states extend coverage to families earning less than $50,000 a year. Homeless children or those who belong to a family receiving financial assistance from programs such as TANF automatically become eligible for CHIP regardless of income.
How to Apply
Applying to receive the benefits of any of the child care programs we mentioned above can be done through different avenues. The local Child Care Subsidy agency is the first option that comes to mind to gather information about which programs are available in a state, and what’s required to submit an application. States like New York operate websites to manage all of their financial assistance programs. Families can register and apply using these feature-rich platforms, which allow them to stay up to date with their applications and current benefits.
Families who participate in other programs such as Temporary Assistance (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can request guidance as to which child care programs would better fit with their current benefits.