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CCDF Reauthorization Frequently Asked Questions - ARCHIVED

Published: March 25, 2015

The FAQs below have been archived because they were issued prior to publication of the CCDF final rule on September 30, 2016 and therefore do not reflect clarifications made by the rule. For more information on the final rule, see the CCDF Reauthorization.



On November 19, 2014, the President signed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 into law.  The law reauthorized the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program for the first time in 18 years and made expansive changes to protect the health and safety of children in child care, promote continuity of access to subsidy for low-income families, better inform parents and the general public about the child care choices available to them, and improve the overall quality of early learning and afterschool programs.  Collectively, these changes reflect a new era for child care in this country and an opportunity to improve the learning experiences of millions of children every day.

Since passage of the law, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has received many questions about its specifics. Below are responses to frequently asked questions about CCDF reauthorization organized by key implementation objectives.  Please note that ACF will be providing guidance on a rolling basis and may issue additional guidance and FAQ’s on these topics in the future.  In addition, ACF plans to release a notice of proposed rulemaking to further clarify guidance.  The interim responses below are intended to provide preliminary information for the general public and timely direction for States and Territories as they prepare to submit their FY2016-2018 CCDF Plans1.

Please visit the CCDF Reauthorization page to view the CCDF Plan pre-print (ACF-118) and other ACF guidance related to reauthorization and its implementation.  We also continue to welcome feedback and you can send any questions or comments to us by email.


What is CCDF reauthorization?

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act is the law (along with Section 418 of the Social Security Act) that authorizes the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)2, which is the primary Federal funding source devoted to providing low-income families that are working or participating in education and training with help paying for child care and improving the quality of child care for all children.  The CCDF program helps fund child care assistance for over 1.4 million children each month throughout the United States, U.S. Territories and Tribal communities.  In addition, the investments in quality benefit millions more children by building the skills and qualifications of the teacher workforce, supporting child care programs to achieve higher standards, and providing consumer education to help parents select child care that meets their families’ needs.

On November 19, 2014, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes the CCDBG Act through 2020. The new law makes many important statutory changes focused on strengthening child care in this country to better support the success of two generations.  Research has demonstrated that access to stable high quality child care can promote school readiness and success for children, employment for parents, and economic security for families.

Who is affected by the new law?

When fully implemented, this bipartisan law will raise the bar for child care in the country.  The reforms made by reauthorization will benefit the over 1.4 million children receiving child care subsidies, as well as children cared for alongside them who receive no direct assistance from CCDF but benefit from safer child care settings with better skilled teachers and staff.  Low-income parents who receive subsidies to make child care affordable will receive more stable assistance as they work toward economic security.  In addition, all parents who use child care, regardless of income, will benefit from some new health and safety protections for their children, like background checks for providers, and public information about the health and safety track records of providers and information about the quality of services. 

The law will also have an impact on the requirements and professional development opportunities for individual teachers and staff working in child care settings that serve children receiving CCDF-funded child care assistance. Thousands of child care providers serving CCDF children across the country will receive monitoring and meet new health and safety standards.  Finally, the law impacts the State, Territorial, and Tribal agencies that administer the CCDF program and will be implementing the requirements.  ACF will partner with these agencies and provide technical assistance to assist them.  

What are the purposes of CCDF?

The law enhanced the statutory purposes of the CCDF program to better balance the dual purposes of promoting children’s healthy development and school success and to support parents who are working or in training or education: (new language indicated in bold)

  1. to allow each State maximum flexibility in developing child care programs and policies that best suit the needs of children and parents within that State;
  2. to promote parental choice to empower working parents to make their own decisions regarding the child care services that best suits their family’s needs;
  3. to encourage States to provide consumer education information to help parents make informed choices about child care services and to promote involvement by parents and family members in the development of their children in child care settings;
  4. to assist States in delivering high-quality, coordinated early childhood care and education services to maximize parents’ options and support parents trying to achieve independence from public assistance;
  5. to assist States in improving the overall quality of child care services and programs by implementing the health, safety, licensing, training, and oversight standards established in this subchapter and in State law (including State regulations);
  6. to improve child care and development of participating children; and
  7. to increase the number and percentage of low-income children in high-quality child care settings.

(Reference: Section 658A(b))

How will the new law make child care more healthy, safe, and high quality?

The law establishes minimum standards, training, and monitoring requirements to ensure that child care used by children receiving CCDF financial assistance protects their health and safety.   The law also has several provisions to improve child care settings for all children across the country.  For example, the law requires that all States use the same set of comprehensive background checks for all child care teachers and staff.  In addition, States must develop professional development systems designed to improve the knowledge and skills of the individual teacher and staff working with children in child care.  Finally, the law targets funding for investments in improving quality of child care, including a percentage specifically for care of infants and toddlers.   

How will the new law support child development and school readiness? 

Improving the development and school readiness of participating children is now a key purpose of the CCDBG Act.  The law requires States and Territories to have professional development systems that can help those working with young children promote their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development, and to address behavioral challenges.  There are also new requirements for consumer education that will help parents seeking information on how to choose care and access other services that will benefit their children’s development.  The law requires States to collect and share information on child development, family engagement, developmental screenings for young children, and quality child care with parents, providers, and the public.

How will the new law help working low-income parents achieve Financial stability?

Congress added requirements that will provide more stable child care financial assistance to families on their path to financial stability, including extending children’s eligibility for child care regardless of temporary changes in parent’s earnings and work, training, or school schedules.  This will make it easier for parents to maintain employment or finish education programs.  The law also requires that States and Territories not unduly disrupt parents’ employment in order to maintain their eligibility, and adopt processes that take into account irregular fluctuations in earnings.

Do current regulations still apply and when will ACF issue a new proposed rule?

Where the law does not otherwise override or revise provisions in existing CCDF regulations, those regulations continue to apply.  ACF will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit public comment on revisions to CCDF regulations to incorporate new provisions and changes made by reauthorization. 

How can I keep up to date with information about implementation of the new law?

Information on implementation of CCDF reauthorization, including links to guidance, webinars, technical assistance, and opportunities to provide stakeholder input will be posted on our Reauthorization Resource Page.  The resource page will be updated with new tools and resources, including responses to frequently asked questions, as they become available.

Questions regarding reauthorization and implementation can be submitted to by email.

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How does reauthorization change funding for the CCDF program?

The CCDBG Act of 2014 authorizes the CCDF program through FY 2020 and includes authorized funding amounts for each fiscal year.  The actual amount of CCDF discretionary funding provided for a given fiscal year is determined through the annual appropriations process and may be more or less than the amount indicated in the law.  For FY 2015, the appropriation for the discretionary portion of CCDF funding is $2,435,000,000.  This amount differs (and in this case was higher) than the amount authorized in the law for FY 2015 because the appropriations process allows lawmakers to appropriate an amount that is different than what authorizing laws specify.  Therefore, while the new law authorizes an increase in CCDF funding over time, Congress will determine actual funding levels for each fiscal year.

(Reference: Section 658B)

Does reauthorization change the amount of mandatory or matching funds?

No, the amounts of mandatory and matching funds appropriated for CCDF are governed by Section 418 of the Social Security Act (as opposed to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act) and were not changed by reauthorization.  For FY 2015, the amount allocated for CCDF mandatory and matching funds is $2.917 billion, which is level funding from the prior year.  Note that, while the funding mechanism for mandatory and matching funds is separate from discretionary CCDF funding, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 (Pub.L. 104-193) made such funding subject to the requirements of the CCDBG Act, as amended.  HHS subsequently designated the combined funding streams as the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program.

(Reference: 42 U.S.C. § 618)

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What effective dates are specified in the law?

The law includes a number of new program requirements.  In some cases, the law specifies a particular date when a provision is effective.  Provisions with a specific effective date are listed below.  Where the law does not specify a date, the new requirements are effective upon the date of enactment of the law.  On January 9, 2015, ACF published a Program instruction (CCDF-ACF-PI-2015-02) with detailed guidance on effective dates, including a timeline outlining the dates below:

  • Raising the minimum quality spending requirement from 4 to 9%: Phased-in over a 5-year period beginning in FY 2016 and incrementally rising thereafter.
  • Additional 3% quality set-aside for infants and toddlers: Starting in FY 2017 and each succeeding fiscal year thereafter.
  • Criminal background checks for all child care providers: September 30, 2017.
  • Monitoring of licensing and regulatory requirements for providers serving CCDF children: November 19, 2016.
  • Posting results of monitoring and inspection reports on a public website: Earlier of November 19, 2017 or 1 year after implementation of required monitoring policies.
  • State compliance with priority for services for underserved populations: September 30, 2016. 

The Program Instruction on effective dates can be found on the Office of Child Care website.

What provisions in the new law are effective upon enactment?

Where the law did not specify an effective date (as described above), provisions are considered to be effective upon enactment.  However, ACF has announced a process by which States and Territories may request additional time for implementation of these provisions; see Program Instruction CCDF-ACF-PI-2015-02.  New provisions in the law without an otherwise statutorily-specified effective date include:

  • Consumer and Provider Education Information: State shall collect and disseminate information including but not limited to, availability of child care, quality of providers (if available), and information on developmental screenings.
  • Licensing Exemptions: If the State exempts providers from licensing requirements, the State shall describe how such exemption does not endanger the health, safety, or development of children.
  • Training and Professional Development: The State shall have training and professional development requirements (as described in the Act) that are applicable to all CCDF providers.
  • Child-to-Provider Ratio Standards: The State shall have in place standards (appropriate to setting) that include group size limits, appropriate child-staff ratios, and provider qualifications.
  • Health and Safety Requirements: The State shall have in place requirements to protect the health and safety of children applicable to all CCDF providers in the topic areas described in the Act.  (Note: Enforcement of Licensing and Other Regulatory Requirements through monitoring has a delayed effective date specified in statute).
  • Compliance with Child Abuse Reporting: The State shall certify that child care providers within the State will comply with the child abuse reporting requirements of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
  • Meeting the Needs of Certain Populations: The State shall develop and implement strategies to increase the supply and improve the quality of child care services for children in underserved areas, infants and toddlers, children with disabilities (as defined by the State), and children who receive care during nontraditional hours.
  • Protection for Working Parents: States shall have a redetermination period of not less than 12 months under the conditions specified by the Act, including a graduated phase-out of care.
  • Coordination with Other Programs: The State shall coordinate with Federal, State, and local programs, including those serving infants and toddlers with disabilities, homeless children, and children in foster care.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: The State shall encourage partnerships with other entities to leverage existing service delivery systems and to increase supply and quality of child care.
  • Priority for Low-Income Populations: The State shall ensure that families from areas with high poverty and unemployment that do not have high quality programs will have priority with respect to investments to increase access to high-quality programs.
  • Payment Practices: The State shall have in place payment practices that reflect payment practices of non CCDF providers and, to the extent possible, implement enrollment and eligibility policies that delink reimbursement rates from occasional absences due to holidays or unforeseen circumstances.
  • Early Learning and Development Guidelines: The State shall maintain or implement early learning and development guidelines.
  • Disaster Preparedness: The State shall address child care needs before, during, and after a state of emergency and have a statewide child care disaster plan.
  • Business Technical Assistance: The State shall develop and implement strategies to strengthen business practices of child care providers.
  • Homeless Families: The State shall have procedures to permit enrollment (after an initial eligibility determination) of homeless children while required documentation is obtained, provide training and technical assistance on identifying and serving homeless children and their families, and provide specific outreach to homeless families.

How will ACF determine compliance?

ACF will determine compliance with requirements in the new law through submission and approval of the FY 2016-2018 CCDF Plans and other appropriate means, including site visits to States.  Submission and approval of the Plan is the primary mechanism by which ACF works with Lead Agencies to ensure State and Territory programs meet federal requirements.  Reauthorization of CCDF brings about a number of changes, some of which are straightforward to implement, and others that are more complex and will take time to put in place.  The level of effort needed for implementation will vary depending on the number of changes a State needs to make.  Some States and Territories will need time to enact changes through their State legislatures or rulemaking processes.

Therefore, if a State or Territory provides justification for why it cannot certify compliance with one or more of the new requirements at the time of submission of its FY 2016-2018 CCDF Plan, ACF may allow the Lead Agency to submit a State-specific timeline for achieving compliance with such provision(s).  The timeline must provide sufficient information to support approval of the Plan for funding.  ACF expects the need for additional time would be limited to provisions that require significant policy revisions or implementation efforts by the Lead Agency.  For all provisions that do not otherwise have a statutorily-specified effective date (i.e., provisions in the bulleted list above) the timeline for implementation may not go beyond September 30, 2016.

Does the new law allow States to apply for waivers?

The new law allows ACF to waive provisions or penalties in the law for up to 3 years (with an option of a 1 year extension) based on a request from the State or Territory identifying duplicative requirements preventing effective delivery of child care services, extraordinary circumstances, or an extended period of time for a State legislature to enact legislation to implement the statute.  Waivers are subject to approval by the Secretary of Health & Human Services.  In order for a waiver to be considered, the State must demonstrate that the waiver will enhance the State’s ability to carry out the purposes of the CCDBG Act and will not contribute to inconsistencies with objectives of the Act.  ACF may terminate a waiver if it determines that the performance of the State has been inadequate, or a waiver is no longer necessary to achieve its original purposes. ACF will provide additional guidance on the waiver process in the future.

(Reference: Section 658I(c))

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What does CCDF reauthorization mean for Tribes?

Many of the new provisions in the law do not explicitly apply to Tribes.  Therefore, ACF plans to consult with Tribal leaders and administrators prior to issuing regulations and policy guidance on whether or how provisions in the new law apply to Tribes.  Pending the issuance of new CCDF regulations and guidance for Tribes, Tribes will remain subject to their existing approved CCDF Plans.

How does CCDF reauthorization impact Tribal CCDF funding?

Through reauthorization, Tribal CCDF grantees will now receive not less than 2% of discretionary CCDF funding. Previously, Tribes could only receive up to 2% of both discretionary and mandatory CCDF funds.  Tribal CCDF funding is comprised of two different funding sources: discretionary funds, which are provided under the CCDBG Act, as amended; and Tribal mandatory funds, which are provided under Section 418 of the Social Security Act.  Reauthorization of the CCDBG Act does not affect the Tribal mandatory fund set-aside, but the potential increase in the discretionary funds represents a long-desired change.

Under the new law, the Secretary may reserve an amount greater than 2% for Tribes if:  1) the amount appropriated is greater than the amount appropriated in FY 2014, and 2) the amount allotted to States is not less than the amount allotted in FY 2014.

Pursuant to this new provision, in FY 2015, ACF increased funding for Tribal grantees from 2% to 2.5% of discretionary funds, representing an additional $12 million in CCDF funding.

(Reference: Section 658O(a)(2))

Will ACF be extending the approved Tribal plans?

Yes, ACF will be extending the approved FY 2014-2015 Tribal Plans for one year.  In March 2014, we notified tribal leaders and Tribal CCDF Administrators of our proposal for an alternative submission cycle for CCDF Tribal Plans.  Under the previous plan cycle, States, Territories, and Tribes all submitted Plans at the same time.  ACF intends to “stagger” the Plan submission cycle beginning in 2015 so that Tribal Plans would be submitted on a different schedule than State and Territory Plans.  We received positive feedback on this proposal.  Given the comments and the priority we are placing on tribal consultation, we decided to adopt the alternative submission cycle for Tribes.

The new law extends the Plan period from 2 years to 3 years.  We will extend the current Tribal Plans for one year, which means that Tribes will submit new 3-year Plans for the FY 2017-2019 in the summer of 2016, with an effective date of October 1, 2016.  The new submission cycle will have no impact on the tribal funding allocations.  Tribes will continue to submit their annual child count for funding in July 2015 in order to receive funding for FY 2016 funding, which is consistent with current regulations regarding child counts.  If Tribes wish to change their policies before the beginning of the FY 2017-2019 Plan cycle, they may submit Plan amendments to their current approved CCDF Plans.

How does the Tribal Plan extension impact the 102-477 Tribes?

Tribes that have consolidated their CCDF funds under the Indian Employment, Training, and Related Services Demonstration Act (Pub. L. 102-477) will continue to be subject to their existing 102-477 Plans.  The 102-477 program allows Tribes to streamline a number of tribal services funded through the Department of the Interior, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services.  Since the 102-477 Plan incorporates other Federal programs alongside of CCDF, we will not be extending these Plans.  Tribes participating in the 102-477 program will continue to follow regular timelines.  All Tribes, including those under a 102-477 Plan, will continue to submit their annual child count by the July 1, 2015 deadline to receive funding for the upcoming fiscal years.

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How does the new law help parents make more informed child care choices?

The statute strengthens requirements for States to provide consumer and provider education information and interact with parents to help them make the best child care choice for their families.  The law explicitly identifies a number of items that States must provide to parents receiving CCDF assistance, the general public, and, where applicable, child care providers.  This includes information about:

  1. The availability of child care services provided through CCDF and other child care services the family might be eligible for;
  2. The quality of providers, which can be based on a State quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), if available;
  3. Processes for licensing child care providers, conducting background checks, and monitoring of providers;
  4. Other financial assistance programs that families might be eligible for, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Head Start and Early Head Start, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Medicaid, and the State children’s health insurance programs (SCHIP);
  5. Programs carried out under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) such as the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and the Part B Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities;
  6. Research and best practices concerning children’s development; and
  7. Policies regarding the social-emotional behavioral health of young children, including positive behavioral intervention and support models and policies about the expulsion of preschool-aged children in early childhood programs. 

(Note: Additional information about policies related to the expulsion of preschool-aged children is available online.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(E)(i))

How are States to make available the results of monitoring and inspections?

The law requires States to make the results of monitoring and inspection reports available by “electronic means.”  For this provision, ACF’s interpretation is that “electronic means” refers to a consumer-friendly and easily accessible website.  Making available a website with easy-to-understand, basic information about how child care is regulated and monitored, as well as the results of monitoring and inspections for individual child care providers, can improve transparency for families.  In order for a website to be a useful tool for parents, it should be free, easy to navigate, searchable, and in plain language.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(D))

What is the deadline for States to post the results of inspection reports?

States must post monitoring and inspection reports no later than 1 year after the State has implemented the new CCDF monitoring and inspection policies (the law allows States until November 19, 2016 to implement monitoring and inspection policies).

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(D))

What information must States make available on the consumer education website?

States must post the following information on a consumer-friendly and easily accessible website:

  • Provider-specific information must include:
    1. results of monitoring and inspection reports, including those due to major substantiated complaints;
    2. last date of inspection; and
    3. information on corrective actions taken (if applicable). 
  • Aggregate information on child care in the State must include:
    1. the annual number of deaths;
    2. the annual number of serious injuries; and
    3. the annual number of incidences of substantiated child abuse.
  • Information about State processes including:
    1. the process for licensing child care providers;
    2. the process for conducting background checks and the offenses that would keep a provider from being allowed to care for children; and
    3. the process for conducting monitoring and inspections of child care providers.

In addition to the required components, ACF strongly encourages States to post other consumer education information on this website, including provider-specific information about the quality of care available to parents, such as through a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS).

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(D) and 658E(c)(2)(E)(i)(III))

Do States have to provide information about developmental screenings?

Yes, the statute requires States to provide information regarding developmental screenings as part of consumer education activities.  Specifically, the law requires the State to include:

  1. Information on existing resources and services the State can provide, including the coordinated use of the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program and developmental screening services available under section 619 and part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to conduct developmental screenings and to provide referrals to services for children receiving CCDF assistance, and
  2. A description of how a family or provider may use these resources to obtain developmental screenings for children who may be at risk of developmental delays. 

The developmental screening process can be difficult for parents and child care providers to navigate, particularly those with limited English proficiency and low literacy rates.  States can play a critical role by working across child care and other service systems to ensure that parents and child care providers have the information and supports they need to help children who might be at risk for social, emotional, physical or linguistic delays.  The ACF project Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! has information on research-based developmental screening tools and other resources.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(E)(ii))

May States use CCDF for child care resource and referral (CCR&R) systems?

Yes. States may use CCDF funds to establish or support a system of local or regional CCR&Rs that is coordinated, to the extent determined appropriate by the State, by a statewide public or private nonprofit, community-based or regionally based, lead CCR&R organization.  If a State uses funds for a system of local or regional CCR&Rs, the CCR&Rs must:

  1. Provide parents with consumer education about the full-range of child care options, analyzed by provider, including child care provided during nontraditional hours and through emergency child care centers;
  2. Work directly with families that receive CCDF assistance to help and support them as they decide on a child care provider, to the extent practicable;
  3. Collect data and provide information on the coordination of services and supports, including services under section 619 (Preschool Grants) and part C (Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  4. Collect data and provide information on the supply and demand for child care and submit this information to the State;
  5. Establish partnerships to increase supply and quality of child care in the State; and
  6. Coordinate activities with the State and local lead agencies, as appropriate.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(3)(B)(iii))

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Does the law specify a length of time for re-determining a family’s eligibility?

Yes, the law establishes 12 month eligibility re-determination periods for CCDF families, regardless of changes in income (as long as income does not exceed the federal threshold of 85% of State Median Income) or temporary changes in participation in work, training, or education activities.  This change essentially provides for continuous eligibility for families throughout the 12 month period as long as they do not exceed the federal income threshold or experience a non-temporary change in work, education or training that affects eligibility. 

  • Under the law, States may not terminate CCDF assistance during the 12-month period if a family has an increase in income that exceeds the State’s income eligibility threshold, but not the federal threshold of 85% SMI.
  • In addition, the State may not terminate assistance prior to the end of the 12 month period if a family experiences a temporary job loss or temporary change in participation in a training or education activity.  In addition to temporary job loss, other examples of temporary changes include, but are not limited to: absence from employment due to extended medical leave or changes in seasonal work schedule, or if a parent enrolled in training or educational program is temporarily not attending class between semesters. 

The intent of this provision is to promote continuity of care and extend the time period that eligible children and families have access to child care assistance.  Low-income families can experience rapid and multiple changes within a short period of time and unemployment and job loss are very disruptive to families.  Retention of eligibility during a temporary period of unemployment or extended leave due to illness, for example, can alleviate some of the stress on families and facilitate a smoother transition back into the workforce.  Stable child care is critical to strengthening parents’ ability to go to work, improve their prospects in the job market, and increase their earning potential.  In addition, continuity is important for creating the stable conditions children need for their healthy development and preparing for school.  Research shows that children have better educational and developmental outcomes when they have continuity in their child care arrangements.  Concurrently, research has shown that frequent changes in arrangements are associated with higher levels of stress and negative behavior in young children (Dicker, S., and Gordon, E., Zero to Three, 2004).

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(N)(i))

Will States with a 6 month eligibility re-determination period have to change to 12 months?

Yes, all States and Territories will be required to certify in their FY 2016-2018 CCDF Plan that they have a 12-month re-determination period for CCDF families.  Establishing a 12 month eligibility period is one of the most significant areas of change made by Congress and is a priority for ACF.  For States that cannot certify compliance with this requirement by the time Plans become effective, ACF may allow the State to submit a justification for why they are not in compliance with the policy (e.g., need to get approval of the State legislature or engage in rulemaking process) and to submit a State-specific timeline for when they will have the policy fully implemented which may not go beyond September 30, 2016.  However, ACF expects States and Territories to take steps to expedite implementation of this important policy change as quickly as possible.

(Reference: CCDF-ACF-PI-2015-02; Section 658E(c)(2)(N))

Does the law require States to offer families a period of job search?

A State cannot terminate CCDF assistance prior to the end of the 12-month eligibility period due to a temporary change in the parent’s work, training and education status.  If a parent experiences a non-temporary loss of job, education or training that affects eligibility, States have the option - but are not required - to terminate assistance prior to re-determination at 12 months.  However, prior to terminating the subsidy, the State must provide a period of continued assistance of at least 3 months to allow parents to engage in job search, resume work, or to attend an education or training program as soon as possible.

It is important to note that the law allows States to continue child care eligibility for the full 12-month eligibility period even if the parent experiences a non-temporary loss of job, education, or training that affects eligibility.  There are reasons States may want to continue eligibility for some or all of the 12-month period.  In particular, changing child care programs can have a negative effect on children – especially on their social and emotional development.  Losing a subsidy doesn’t just affect the parent – it affects the child and likely means that they have to leave the care of a trusted caregiver – even if their parent is going to return to work after a short job search.  CCDF has an important role in supporting child development, meaning that the value of continuity within a quality child care setting for a child’s development and continuing assistance offers significant benefits to children.

One additional reason to extend eligibility beyond the 3 month job search period is to facilitate a longer job search.  Retention of eligibility during a longer job search period can make it easier for parents to apply for jobs and ensures that they have child care in place when they find one that supports children’s development by maintaining continuity in their early learning placement3.    

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(N)(iii))

What is the new requirement for graduated phase-out of assistance?

The law specifies that a State must provide for a graduated phase-out of assistance for families whose income has increased at the time of re-determination, but still does not exceed the federal income limit of 85% of State Median Income (SMI).  Providing a graduated phase-out promotes continuity by allowing for wage growth, a tapered transition out of the child care subsidy program, and supports long-term financial stability to help families get to a point where they no longer need the subsidy.  Sudden withdrawal of support can destabilize and undermine a family’s pathway to financial stability.

ACF strongly encourages States and Territories to consider how to continue to support families through access to financial assistance for child care until they have achieved financial stability.  Pending additional guidance from ACF, this could be achieved through policies such as establishing a second income eligibility threshold at re-determination (e.g., establishing a different eligibility threshold for families first applying for assistance and those already receiving assistance, sometimes called an “exit threshold”) or by granting a sustained period of continued assistance to the family before termination.  The law allows the exit threshold to be set as high as 85% of SMI. States could adjust co-pays for families during this period to create a gradual shift in how families must adjust their budget to cover the full cost of care once they are no longer receiving a subsidy, but should consider how to do this in a way that minimizes paperwork and reporting burdens on working families. 

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(N)(iv))

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What does it mean to take into account irregular fluctuations in earnings?

The law requires States to demonstrate how its processes for initial determination and redetermination of eligibility take into account irregular fluctuations in income.  This is particularly important for families who rely on work that is unpredictable or seasonal in nature, such as agriculture or construction work or work associated with tourism industries.  These families may experience a temporary spike in income due to working increased hours (e.g., retail at the holidays, tourism in summer) over a short period, yet those earnings are not representative of the family’s income over the course of a year.  States will have to demonstrate in their plan how their initial determination and redetermination processes take into account irregular fluctuations in earnings.

The methodology by which States capture family income determines the accuracy of the eligibility determination (or re-determination) with implications for eligibility as well as the amount of co-pay for which a family may be responsible.  The following are some examples of policy options that would enable States to take into account irregular fluctuations in earnings and capture a more nuanced picture of family income:         

  • Average Income:  To ensure that salary and wage information is reflective of annual income, a State has the option of averaging the family earnings over a period of time (e.g., looking at the family’s earnings over a 12 month period, rather than a shorter period of time). States adopting this approach will need to consider how income changes that occur during the eligibility period should be considered, including situations in which a family may be expected to have monthly income above 85% of SMI for part of the year and much lower income in other months.  States have the flexibility to allow such families to remain eligible for child care subsidies during their higher earning months based on past evidence that annual income is not expected to be above the 85% SMI standard. Considering a family’s likely income over a year gives the State the ability to  account for irregular fluctuations in pay over the course of a year and provide a more accurate picture of the family’s financial situation.
  • Allow for Temporary Income Increases:  States can adopt policies that ensure that temporary changes in income, including temporary changes that mean that monthly income exceeds 85% of SMI (calculated on a monthly basis), do not affect eligibility or copayments.  If a family temporarily sees its income rise but that change is not expected to be long-lasting, terminating eligibility or abruptly increasing copayments can de-stabilize the family and result in the family being left without needed assistance when the short-lived income increase has ended and the parent needs assistance to continue to work. 

For the purposes of error rates and improper payments, States with irregular earnings policies approved through the State Plan process will be assessed based on whether they implemented those policies.  If the income fluctuation for a particular family turns out to be long lasting and not temporary, but the State followed its own rules for determining initial and subsequent income, the case would not result in an error or improper payment.

What does it mean to not unduly disrupt employment?

The law requires States to ensure that re-determination processes will not unduly disrupt the employment, education, or participation in job-training of parents, especially TANF families.  Many States currently implement re-determination strategies to accomplish this by verifying income and employment by electronic means as opposed to more onerous practices, such as asking parents to come to the subsidy office for an in-person appointment at a specific time on a particular day or to frequently re-submit information.

The process by which States collect eligibility documentation represents a potential barrier to services, particularly when documentation can only be provided in-person during standard work hours.  States could offer a variety of family-friendly mechanisms for submitting documentation (e.g. phone, email, extended submission hours, etc.) for eligibility determination and/or re-determination.  States could consider only asking for information that they need to make a determination of eligibility and not ask for things to be re-submitted if they have been collected in the past (e.g. children’s birth certificates; parents’ identification). 

In general, ACF strongly encourages States to adopt reasonable policies for establishing a family’s eligibility that minimize burdens on families.  Given the new continuous eligibility and 12-month re-determination policy established by reauthorization, States are encouraged to re-evaluate processes for verifying and tracking family’s eligibility, particularly requirements related to reporting changes in circumstances, to reduce duplicative requirements across programs and simplify eligibility procedures. 

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(N)(ii))

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Do special requirements apply to how States serve homeless families?

Yes, the law places a greater emphasis on serving homeless children and families.  Stable access to high-quality child care provides tremendous benefits to all children, especially our nation’s most vulnerable children.  Children and their families who experience homelessness face many challenges.  Improving access to child care can buffer children and families from the challenges and risks associated with homelessness by supporting children’s learning and development in safe, stable and nurturing environments.  Under the new law, States are required to use CCDF funds to:

  • Allow homeless children to receive CCDF assistance after an initial eligibility determination but before providing required documentation (including documentation related to immunizations);
  • Provide training and technical assistance to child care providers on identifying and serving homeless children and families; and
  • Conduct specific outreach to homeless families.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(3))

Can homeless children receive CCDF if they don’t have immunizations or documentation?

Yes, as part of their health and safety requirements, the law requires States to establish a grace period that allows homeless children and children in foster care to receive CCDF assistance while their families are taking the necessary actions to comply with immunization and other health and safety requirements.  This flexibility will make it significantly easier for these vulnerable families to access child care services.  Due to the importance of immunizations in protecting children’s health, ACF strongly encourages States to implement systemic supports to ensure children get immunized, including homeless and foster children under this provision.  ACF anticipates providing additional guidance in this area.

This new statutory language is consistent with current requirements established through CCDF regulations published in 1998, which required States to establish a grace period in which children can receive services while families are taking the necessary actions to comply with the immunization requirements.  The law specifies that this is a requirement for homeless and foster children, but per the 1998 regulation, States should have this in place for other families as well.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(I)(i)(I))

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How does the law help build a supply of high quality providers caring for all children?

The law requires that States develop strategies for increasing supply and quality of child care services for children in underserved areas, infants and toddlers, children with disabilities, and children in non-traditional hour care, which may include use of grants/contracts and alternative payment rates.  ACF encourages States to examine what and where the most pressing needs are, including identifying underserved populations. Existing needs assessments and population data collected by State Advisory Councils, Head Start State Collaboration Offices, child care resource and referral agencies, or Head Start and Early Head Start grantees may help States and Territories make a determination of which needs are most pressing and how best to target state and CCDF funds to build the supply of quality care for particular populations.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(M) and 658E(c)(2)(Q))

Does the law allow States to use grants and contracts to build supply of high-quality child care?

Yes, the law continues to allow States to use grants and contracts, as well as vouchers, as an allowable strategy for addressing the needs of underserved populations and communities.  States can award grants and contracts to providers in order to provide financial incentives to offer care for special populations, require higher quality standards, and guarantee certain numbers of slots to be available for low-income children eligible for CCDF financial assistance.  Grants and contracts can provide financial stability for child care providers by paying in regular installments, paying based on maintenance of enrollment, or paying prospectively rather than on a reimbursement basis.  Without stable funding, it can be difficult for providers to pay for the higher costs associated with providing high quality child care, particularly those in low-income or rural communities.     ACF encourages States to explore how grants and contracts can be used as part of a strategy to increase the supply of high quality care and anticipates providing further guidance on the use of grants and contracts.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(A))

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What are the new requirements regarding the market rate survey used to set payment rates?

To set payment rates, the State must conduct either: (1) a market rate survey that reflects variations in the price of child care services by geographic area, type of provider, and age of child, or (2) an alternative methodology, such as a cost estimation model.  The State must:

  • Use methods that are statistically valid and reliable in conducting a survey;
  • Develop and conduct the survey or alternative methodology no earlier than two years before the date of submission of the CCDF Plan;
  • Consult with the State Advisory Council, local child care program administrators, local child care resource and referral agencies, and other appropriate entities prior to developing and conducting the survey or alternative methodology.
  • Prepare a detailed report containing the results of the survey or alternative methodology, and make the results widely available no later than 30 days after completion, including by posting the results on the Internet.
  • Set CCDF subsidy payment rates in accordance with the results of the current market rate survey or alternative methodology.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(4))

What alternative methodology can be used instead of a market rate survey? 

The law allows for an alternative methodology, such as a cost estimation model, that has been developed by the State.  While a market rate survey measures prices charged by child care providers, a cost estimation model would document the full cost to providers of delivering quality child care, or various levels of quality, such as the levels of a Quality Rating and Improvement System.  Many child care providers report that they are unable to set published prices that reflect the full cost of providing quality services because parents would be unable to pay these prices.  As a result, the published prices that are reflected in market rate surveys are not always adequate to cover the providers' full costs, particularly for high quality care.

Cost estimation models should account for key factors that impact the cost of service delivery such as: staff salaries and benefits; training and professional development; curricula and supplies; group size of children and staff-child ratios; enrollment levels; program size; facility costs (rent/mortgage, utilities); and other factors.  Such models should also take into account that costs vary across submarkets, such as by:  provider category (e.g., center, family home); geographic groupings (e.g., by locality, urban/rural); age of child (e.g., infants and toddlers, preschoolers, school-age); and other considerations (e.g., care for children with disabilities or special health needs).

The Provider Cost of Quality Calculator (PCQC) is an easy-to-use, Web-based tool that calculates the cost of quality—based on site-level provider data—to help State policymakers understand the costs associated with delivering high-quality child care services. The tool can demonstrate whether there is a gap between the cost of providing quality services and the revenue sources available to support a program. Knowing the size of the gap at different quality levels for various provider types can inform the design of financial support and incentive packages. States and Territories can use the PCQC to take into account the cost of quality and to inform an alternative methodology for setting payment rates. The PCQC is publically available on OCC Technical Assistance Network Website.

Any payment rates established using an alternative methodology or market rate survey must be reviewed and approved by ACF as part of the CCDF Plan review process.  Because the alternative methodology is a new basis for setting payment rates, we highly encourage any State considering an alternative methodology to submit a description of its proposed approach to the ACF Regional Office in advance of the Plan submittal—in order to avoid any delays with Plan approval.  Any alternative methodology or market rate survey that results in stagnant or reduced payment rates will result in increased scrutiny by ACF in its review, and the State will need to provide a justification for how the changes result in improving the availability of higher quality child care.  At a minimum, any alternative methodology or market rate survey must:

  • Use current data and rigorous methods;
  • Be conducted no earlier than two years before the date of submission of the CCDF Plan;
  • Be developed and conducted only after consultation with the State Advisory Council, local child care program administrators, local child care resource and referral agencies, and other appropriate entities;
  • Include a detailed report containing the results, which must be made widely available no later than 30 days after completion, including by posting the results on the Internet.
  • Be the basis for setting CCDF subsidy payment rates.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(4)(B))

What does it mean for a Market Rate survey to be “STATISTICALLY valid and reliable”? 

To be statistically valid and reliable, a market rate survey must represent the child care market, provide complete and current data, use rigorous data collection procedures, reflect geographic variation, and analyze data in a manner that captures other relevant differences.  For guidance on the validity of market rate surveys, we recommend that States consult an ACF-funded report.

Must States use the current market rate survey or alternative methodology to set rates?

Yes, the State must use its current, most recent market rate survey or alternative methodology to establish their payment rates.  The new law indicates that the State must set payment rates “in accordance with the results of the market rate survey or alternative methodology conducted pursuant to clause (i).”  Clause (i) indicates that the market rate survey or alternative methodology must be developed and conducted no earlier than two years before the date of State Plan submission.  This effectively requires States to conduct a new market rate survey or alternative methodology and re-evaluate their existing payment rates at least every three years to determine whether rates continue to provide equal access based on present market conditions, which may change over time due to shifts local markets or inflation.  Rates should also be examined and updated as the State deems appropriate to keep pace with inflation. In the CCDF Plan, States will be asked to provide the date of its most recent market rate survey or alternative methodology.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(4)(B)(iii)(I))

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Are States required to take into account the cost of providing high quality child care?

Yes, the law requires States to take into account the cost of providing higher quality child care services when setting payment rates for providers serving CCDF children.  The purpose of this provision is for States, when setting payment rates, to consider the level of subsidy needed to ensure that providers can afford the cost of fully implementing high quality care so that more low-income families can access that care – a purpose of the revised law.  Base provider payment rates – including for those families without copayments -- should be sufficient to support quality, including compliance with all health and safety requirements, a well-trained, effective staff, a good learning environment, and the provision of age-appropriate learning activities or curricula.  In addition, ACF encourages States to provide tiered payment with a sufficient rate difference between tiers to support higher quality in which teachers may meet higher education standards, more comprehensive health and family supports are offered, or particularly vulnerable populations receive more intensive development and learning supports. 

Linking enhanced subsidy rates to higher quality is an important component of promoting quality, particularly when implemented in conjunction with other ongoing financial supports, assistance, and incentives.  Besides tiered payment, another approach would be to set rates after considering the cost of providing quality care using a cost estimation model or other method.  Another approach would be to track the participation rate of high-quality providers in the subsidy system (e.g., using indicators from a quality rating system to measure provider quality) and to adjust payment rates if necessary. 

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(4)(B)(iii)(II))

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How is “timely payment” for child care services defined?

Under the law, each State will now be required to describe in its CCDF Plan how the State will provide for timely payment.  The law does not define “timely.”  Therefore, pending further guidance, each State needs to examine its current approach to ensuring timely payments and identify improvements based on its particular situation to ensure payment practices are fair to child care providers and support the provision of high quality services.  One key strategy is setting a length of time for making payments and tracking to ensure payments are made within this timeframe.  Administrative improvements such as direct deposit, online training for providers for electronic voucher payment, provider self-service components in an automated system for children authorized into their care, and web-based electronic attendance and billing systems, also can help facilitate the participation of providers in the subsidy system.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(4)(B)(iv))

What is meant by “generally accepted payment practices”?

Under the law, each State must have in place generally accepted payment practices that reflect payment practices of non-CCDF providers.  The law indicates that the goal of this provision is to provide stability of funding and encourage more child care providers to participate in the subsidy program.   Too often, subsidy payments are unpredictable and based on the attendance of individual children, meaning that providers can’t rely on stable program income.   When providers don’t have stable income, they can’t commit to hiring highly trained teachers, may send teachers home midday, or may not be able to invest in educational materials and curriculum.  All of these practices are contrary to the CCDF purposes of delivering high-quality, coordinated early childhood care and education services to maximize parents’ options and increasing the number and percentage of low-income children in high-quality child care settings.

“Generally accepted payment practices” are practices that align with the private-paying child care market in order to encourage providers to accept children receiving CCDF child care assistance and enable  families to retain child care services.  Pending further guidance, States should identify the practices common in their State for private-pay families and then determine which are most important to meet the goals of ensuring that high quality providers will participate in the subsidy program, and States will be required to certify and describe these practices in the CCDF Plan.  Private practices commonly include: paying prospectively based on enrollment and paying for all days in which the provider is open in a given month.    A number of States have developed streamlined, provider-friendly payment policies and administrative processes, such as paying providers when a child is absent due to an illness or other reasons.

Other payment practices include:

  • Giving prompt notice to child care providers of changes to a family’s eligibility status that may impact payment;
  • Allowing providers to receive payment for registration fees and other fees charged to private-paying families;
  • Paying providers prospectively rather than only on a reimbursement basis (which may be tied to required enrollment levels or other reporting on a regular basis);
  • Establishing a dedicated phone line, web portal or other access point for providers to easily reach the subsidy agency for questions and assistance regarding payments;
  • Ensuring timely appeal and resolution processes for payment disputes;
  • Utilizing automated billing and payment mechanisms including direct deposit; and
  • Providing materials on payment practices in multiple languages to promote participation of diverse child care providers.  

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(S)(i))

Does the law require States to pay for absence days?

The law says that States must implement enrollment and eligibility policies that support the fixed costs of providing child care services by delinking provider payment rates from an eligible child’s occasional absences due to holidays or unforeseen circumstances such as illness. Paying for days when the child is occasionally absent helps promote continuity of care by allowing the provider to retain the slot for the child without a financial penalty to the provider.  Child care programs have fixed costs (staff, facilities, etc.) that must be paid regardless of whether or not a child is present on any particular day.  Private-paying parents generally pay for an entire period (e.g., a week or month) even if the child is out sick within that period.

The law says States must implement this provision “to the extent practicable.”  Each State is expected to implement policies, including policies that require payment for absence days, to the extent that is practicable for that State.  A refusal to implement any such policies as being “impracticable” will not be accepted, as will policies that set unreasonable limitations on providers utilizing such policies.  ACF may establish additional parameters through regulation, and in the meantime strongly encourages States, at a minimum, to pay for a significant number of absence days in order to promote stability and continuity for families and providers.  ACF will ask each State to describe the rationale for its policy in the CCDF Plan.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(S)(ii))

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Do CCDF health and safety requirements apply to license-exempt child care providers?

Yes, if a child care provider that is otherwise exempt from licensing by the State provides services to a child receiving CCDF assistance, that child care provider is subject to health and safety requirements in the CCDF law.  The only exception to this requirement is for providers who are caring only for their own relatives.  States have the option of exempting relatives from some or all of CCDF health and safety requirements4.

Many States exempt certain types of child care providers from licensing, for example school-age programs operated by a public school or programs operated by religious organizations.  In addition, States have different thresholds for requiring family child care providers to become licensed.  For example, some States require family child care homes to become licensed when they serve 2 or more unrelated children, while other States allow family child care providers to care for up to 5 children before becoming licensed.  If such providers are serving children receiving CCDF assistance, those providers must receive the requisite health and safety training and receive inspections under the law, even if they are exempt from State licensing laws.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(I) and 658E(c)(2)(K)(i))

Does the law still allow States to exempt certain providers from licensing requirements?

Yes, but States must explain in the CCDF Plan any licensing exemptions and describe why such exemption does not endanger the health, safety, or development of children in the care of such providers.  In addition, license-exempt providers serving CCDF children (with the exception of relatives if exempted by the State) must meet CCDF health and safety requirements.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(F)(ii))

Does the new law include health and safety requirements in specific topic areas?

Yes.  States must have health and safety requirements in place for child care providers that serve children receiving CCDF assistance that cover the following topics:

  1. Prevention and control of infectious diseases (including immunization);
  2. SIDS and use of safe sleep practices;
  3. Administration of medication;
  4. Prevention/response to food allergies;
  5. Building and physical premises safety;
  6. Prevention of shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma;
  7. Emergency preparedness and response planning;
  8. Storage of hazardous materials and biocontaminants;
  9. Precautions in transporting children (if applicable);
  10. First-aid and CPR;
  11. Nutrition and physical activity (optional)

(Reference: Sec. 658E(c)(2)(I)(i))

Does the new law require minimum health and safety trainings for CCDF providers?

Yes, States must have both pre-service (or during an orientation period) and on-going minimum health and safety training requirements (appropriate to the provider setting) for providers serving CCDF children in the topic areas listed above.  ACF expects that these trainings will be part of a broader systematic approach and progression of professional development within a State that will result in opportunities for child care providers to accumulate knowledge, competencies, and credits toward eventual completion of professional certification or higher education.  Note that the law requires States to implement a progression of professional development, based on current research and best practices, and aimed improving the quality and stability of the child care workforce. 

The law does not specify a required number of training or education hours, but the State must report their minimum number of annual training hours required for CCDF providers in their Plan.  While the law does not require any specific number of pre-service and ongoing training hours for CCDF health and safety training, 30 hours of pre-service training and between 24 and 30 hours of ongoing training annually is a reasonable benchmark (based on recommendations in Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards, Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs, 2011).  ACF strongly encourages States to look at all training- including on-going annual training – as a meaningful opportunity to help child care staff progress professionally and pursue credentials and higher education.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(G) and 658E(c)(2)(I)(XI))

Does the new law require group size limits or child-to-provider ratios?

Yes, the law requires States to describe their standards for group sizes and child-to-provider ratios in the CCDF Plan; however such standards are to be determined by the State.  ACF intends to offer guidance on best practices for group size limit and ratios, but will not require States to maintain specific group size limits or child-to-provider ratios.   In the meantime, ACF recommends that States refer to recommended standards in Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(H))

What are the new child abuse reporting requirements in the law?

States must certify that all child care providers within the State will comply with child abuse reporting requirements of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which requires that a State have “provisions or procedures for an individual to report known and suspected instances of child abuse and neglect, including a State law for mandatory reporting by individuals required to report such instances.”  Note that this requirement applies to all child care providers within the State, regardless of whether or not they serve children receiving CCDF assistance.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(L))

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What are the monitoring requirements of the new law?

The law requires that States conduct monitoring visits for all providers serving CCDF children including all license exempt providers (except those that serve relatives)), but has different monitoring requirements for CCDF providers who are licensed and CCDF providers who are license-exempt.

  • For Licensed CCDF Providers – States must conduct 1 pre-licensure inspection for health, safety, and fire standards and annual, unannounced inspections.
  • For License-Exempt CCDF Providers (except those serving relatives) – State must conduct annual inspections for compliance with health, safety, and fire standards. The law does not require that these monitoring visits be unannounced, but ACF recommends that States consider unannounced visits for license-exempt providers since experience shows they are effective in promoting compliance.   

In addition to the new requirements to conduct monitoring visits, States are now required to have policies in place to ensure that:

  • Licensing inspectors are qualified and have received training in related health and safety requirements; and
  • Ratio of inspectors to providers must be sufficient to ensure visits occur in a timely manner. ACF will issue additional guidance on best practices in this area.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(K))

Are States required to post the results of monitoring and inspection visits?

Yes.  A year after the State has implemented the monitoring policies described above or no later than November 19, 2017, States must make public by electronic means, in a consumer-friendly and easily accessible format, organized by provider, the results of monitoring and inspection reports (for both licensed and license-exempt CCDF providers), including information on the date of inspection, and where applicable, information on corrective actions taken.  States are permitted, but not required, to use the same electronic platform to make this information available for providers that do not serve CCDF children.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(D))

Can States use a differential monitoring strategy?

Yes, a State has the option of using differential monitoring strategies, provided that the monitoring visit is still representative of the full complement of licensing and CCDF health and safety standards.  Many States use differential monitoring, which are intentionally designed in such a way that though not every licensing standard is specifically checked for compliance, the monitoring visit is indicative of the full range of the licensing requirements.  Often differential monitoring involves monitoring programs using a subset of requirements to determine compliance. There are two methods that States have used to identify these critical rules:

  • Key Indicators: An approach that focuses on identifying and monitoring those rules that statistically predict compliance with all the rules; and
  • Risk Assessment: An approach that focuses on identifying and monitoring those rules that place children at greater risk of mortality or morbidity if violations or citations occur.

The key indicators approach is often used to determine the rules to include in an abbreviated inspection form or checklist.  A risk assessment approach is most often tied to classifying or categorizing rule violations and can be used to identify rules where violations pose a greater risk to children, distinguish levels of regulatory compliance, or determine enforcement actions based on categories of violations.  Note that monitoring strategies that rely on sampling of providers or allow for a frequency of less than once per year for providers that meet certain criteria are not allowable.  The law clearly states that each child care provider serving a child receiving CCDF assistance shall receive an inspection of not less than annually.  ACF plans to issue guidance on monitoring.

(Reference: Section 658(c)(2)(K)(i)(II))

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What does a comprehensive background check include under the new law?

Under the law, a comprehensive background check has 5 components, including:

  1. a search of the State criminal and sex offender registry in the State where the staff member resides and each State where the staff member has resided for the past 5 years;
  2. a search of the State child abuse and neglect registry in the State where the staff member resides and each State where the staff member has resided for the past 5 years ;
  3. a search of the National Crime Information Center;
  4. a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint check using the Next Generation Identification (which replaced the former Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System); and
  5. a search of the National Sex Offender Registry.

(Reference: Section 658H(b))

Who does the background check requirement apply to?

Unlike other health and safety provisions in the law, the requirement to conduct background checks is not limited to providers serving children receiving CCDF.  In order to receive CCDF funds a State must establish background check requirements for staff members of all child care providers (excepting relatives) consistent with the definitions outlined below. 

The definition of “child care provider” in the law means a center-based child care provider, family child care provider, or another provider of child care services for compensation on a regular basis that:

  • is not an individual related to all children for whom child care services are provided; and
  • is licensed, regulated, or registered under State law or receives CCDF funds.

Further, the law includes a definition of a “child care staff member” to mean an individual (other than an individual who is related to all children for whom child care services are provided):

  • who is employed by a child care providers for compensation; or
  • whose activities involve the care or supervision of children for a child care provider or unsupervised access to children who are cared for or supervised by a child care provider.

Pursuant to these definitions, States are required to establish background check requirements for staff members of providers that are licensed, regulated, or registered—regardless of whether they provide care for children receiving CCDF assistance.

(Reference: Section 658H(a) and (i))

Does the background check requirement apply to family child care providers?

Yes, the definition of child care provider in the law includes family child care providers (except those who care only for relatives). Child care staff members are anyone who is employed by a child care provider for compensation or anyone whose activities involve the care or supervision of children for a child care provider or unsupervised access to children.  For family child care homes, this includes the proprietor or caregiver requesting a check of herself/himself, as well as any other individuals in the household that may have unsupervised access to children.

(Reference: Section 658H(i))

How often must background checks be conducted?

A comprehensive background check on a child care staff member must be conducted at least once every 5 years.

(Reference: Section 658H(d))

What would make a child care staff member ineligible for employment?

The law specifies disqualifying crimes only for child care providers and staff members who are serving children receiving CCDF assistance.  Disqualification criteria include:

  • refuses a background check;
  • knowingly makes a materially false statement in connection with the background check;
  • is registered, or is required to be registered, on the State or National Sex Offender Registry;
  • has been convicted of a felony consisting of murder; child abuse or neglect; crime against children; spousal abuse; crime involving rape or sexual assault; kidnapping; arson; physical assault; or a drug-related offense committed during the preceding 5 years; or
  • has been convicted of a violent misdemeanor committed as an adult against a child.

The law provides flexibility for States in regard to individuals disqualified due to a felony drug offense.  The State, at its option, may allow for a review process through which the State may determine an individual still eligible for employment.

(Reference: Section 658H(c))

Are States required to protect the privacy of the results of the background checks?

Yes, the State will provide the results of the background check to the child care provider in a statement that indicates whether the staff member is eligible or ineligible, without revealing specific disqualifying information.  If the staff member is ineligible, the State will provide information about each disqualifying crime to the staff member, as well as information on how to appeal the results of the background check to challenge the accuracy and completeness.

(Reference: Section 658H(e)(2))

Are States required to have an appeals process?

Yes, States must have a process by which child care staff members (including prospective staff members) may appeal the results of their background check to challenge for accuracy and completeness.  The State must ensure that:

  • Each individual is given notice of the opportunity to appeal,
  • Each individual receives instructions about how to complete the appeals process, and
  • The appeals process is completed in a timely manner.

ACF is working with our partners at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide best practices and guidance on the appeals process.  We also encourage State Lead Agencies to work with their State Identification Bureaus on implementing background check requirements included in reauthorization and managing the appeals process.

(Reference: Section 658H(e)(3))

Are States allowed to publicly release the results of individual background checks?

No. The statute specifies States may not publicly release the results of individual background checks.  However, they may release aggregated data by crime as long as the data does not include personally identifiable information. 

(Reference: Section 658H(e)(2)(C))

What are the costs of the comprehensive background check?

The cost will vary from State-to-State, but the new law stipulates that fees charged by a State for completing the background checks may not exceed the actual cost of processing and administration.    The FBI fee is $14.75 to conduct a national fingerprint check, and, according to CCDF State Plan data, most States report low costs to check State registries.  States have the flexibility to determine who pays for background checks, but the new language makes it clear that States cannot profit from conducting background checks on child care providers.

(Reference: Section 658H(f))

What information about background checks must States make publicly available?

States must publish background check policies and procedures on the States’ consumer education website, which is a new requirement added by reauthorization.  The website requirement is discussed further in this document in the section titled “Consumer Education.”

(Reference: Section 658H(g))

When must a State have policies and procedures for background checks in place?

A State must have policies and procedures in place that meet the background check requirements not later than September 30, 2017, in order for child care providers to request background checks for their staff members by the deadline.  We strongly encourage States to establish policies and procedures well in advance of this date in order to allow sufficient time to clear the backlog of existing providers that must be checked prior to the deadline.  The Secretary may grant the State an extension of up to one year to complete the background check requirements.  For any year that a State fails to substantially comply, 5% of the State’s CCDF funds will be withheld.

(Reference: Section 658H(j))

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How does the law help build a stable, effective early care and education workforce?

The law requires States to develop a system of professional development with progression designed to improve the knowledge and skills of the child care workforce, as well as help providers to promote the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development of children.  An example of how a State might address this is to establish a “career ladder” that allows an individual to move from introductory to advance level training, including obtaining a credential or post-secondary degree.  Professional development should be designed in a manner that builds and accumulates to result in certification or advanced degrees recognized by the State as demonstrating mastery in their profession.

The law requires training and professional development to be conducted on an ongoing basis, and incorporate knowledge of the State’s early learning and development guidelines, CCDF health and safety standards, and social-emotional behavior intervention models, which may include positive behavior intervention and support models. 

Responsive, well-qualified adult caregivers are one of the most important factors in children’s development and learning in child care settings.  ACF strongly encourages States to link CCDF health and safety trainings to this broader professional development framework as the foundation for building a knowledgeable early childhood education workforce.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(G))

Does the law require child care providers to acquire credentials to receive CCDF?

No, the law does not require child care providers to acquire credentials in order to serve children receiving CCDF assistance.  However, States are in no way prohibited from requiring providers to be credentialed in order to serve children in the CCDF program.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(G)(iv))

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How will the law support expanded supply of quality child care providers?

The law says States and Territories must develop strategies for increasing supply and quality of services for children in underserved areas, infants and toddlers, children with disabilities, and children in non-traditional hour care.  In addition, Congress expanded provisions in the law designed to ensure that low-income children whose care is paid for with CCDF assistance have equal access to care that is comparable to services provided to children who are not receiving assistance.  For example, States must consider what level of subsidy is needed to adequately support the costs to providers of offering high quality services.  CCDF funding helps pay for more than 1.4 million children to participate in child care every month, therefore changes in the law that encourage more timely, stable, and higher payments will have a positive impact on the larger child care market for all families.

(Reference: Section 658E(c)(2)(M))

Does the law change how much States must spend on quality activities?

Yes, the law increases the minimum quality spending requirement from 4 to 9% of their CCDF Funds phased-in over 5 years.  In addition, States are required to spend at least 3% of their CCDF award on activities to improve the quality of infant and toddler care.  This 3% set-aside for infant and toddler care is in addition to the 9% quality set-aside.

(Reference: Section 658G(a)(2))

Which quality activities count toward the quality set-aside?

Reauthorization made changes to require that States use the quality set-aside to fund at least one of the following 10 quality activities:

  1. Supporting the training and professional development of the child care workforce;
  2. Improving on the development or implementation of early learning and development guidelines;
  3. Developing, implementing, or enhancing a tiered quality rating system for child care providers and services;
  4. Improving the supply and quality of child care programs and services for infants and toddlers;
  5. Establishing or expanding a Statewide system of child care resource and referral services;
  6. Supporting compliance with State requirements for licensing, inspection, monitoring, training, and health and safety;
  7. Evaluating the quality of child care programs in the State, including evaluating how programs positively impact children;
  8. Supporting child care providers in the voluntary pursuit of accreditation;
  9. Supporting the development or adoption of high-quality program standards related to health, mental health, nutrition, physical activity, and physical development; and
  10. Other activities to improve the quality of child care services as long as outcome measures relating to improved provider preparedness, child safety, child well-being, or kindergarten-entry are possible.

States also are required to report the measures used to evaluate progress in improving the quality of child care programs and services.

(Reference: Section 658G(b) and (d))

Does the quality set-aside apply to the full CCDF grant award?

Yes, the law continues the current policy of applying the quality set-aside to the full CCDF grant award, including discretionary, mandatory, and matching funds.  State maintenance of effort (MOE) funds are not included in the quality set-aside.  The minimum quality spending requirements will be determined as a percentage of expenditures from each fiscal year’s allocation (as was the case prior to reauthorization) as reported by the State on the CCDF expenditure report (ACF-696).
(Reference: Section 658G(a))

When does the quality set-aside increase go into effect?

The increase in the minimum quality set-aside begins in FY 2016.  The infant and toddler quality set-aside begins in FY 2017.  The table below describes the phase-in of the quality set-aside increase.

(Reference: Section 658G(a)(2))

Federal Fiscal Year

% Quality Set-aside

% Infant and Toddler

Total Quality Set-aside

FFY 2016




FFY 2017




FFY 2018




FFY 2019




FFY 2020 (and ongoing)




Will existing infant and toddler targeted funds remain in place?

Yes, the current infant and toddler targeted funds will remain for in place for FY 2015 because they were included in the FY 2015 appropriations law.  In FY 2015, $112,187,000 in CCDF funding is targeted toward improving the quality of infant and toddler care.  Congress will determine the amount of targeted funds appropriated in FY 2016.  Beginning in FY 2017, States will be required to spend at least 3% of their CCDF awards on activities to improve the quality of infant and toddler care.

(Reference: P.L. 113-235 and Section 658G(a)(2))

Will targeted funds for school-age care/child care resource and referral remain in place?

Yes, the current school-age care/child care resource and referral targeted funds will remain for FY 2015 because they were included in the FY 2015 appropriations law.  In FY 2015, $19,357,000 in CCDF funding is targeted toward child care resource and referral and school-aged child care activities.  However, (unlike infant and toddler targeted funds) school-age/resource and referral targeted funds were not incorporated into the statute by reauthorization.  Therefore, Congress will determine if and how funds for these purposes are included in future CCDF discretionary appropriations.

(Reference: P.L. 113-235)

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How will changes to eligibility change State processes to protect against improper payments?

Determining whether payments have been made correctly depends on the rules the state establishes within the limitations of how federal funds may be used. The law requires States to consider a child to be eligible for the full 12 month period despite temporary changes in the parent’s status as working or participating in training or education activity and despite an increase in income above the State’s threshold (as long as income does not exceed the Federal limit of 85% SMI).   This means that it is not necessary to have strict policies that require reporting of minor changes in circumstances as the changes would not likely impact eligibility.  It also minimizes risk of a State issuing an improper payment just by virtue of the fact that the law provides for continuous eligibility for families over the 12 month period.  States also may put in place policies that freeze copayment levels during the 12-month eligibility period, eliminating the need for most reports of modest changes in income, while permitting families to report those changes so that their copayment can be adjusted if their income falls and their ability to pay is reduced.

ACF encourages States to have in place strong internal controls and program integrity efforts to help ensure that program dollars are going to low-income eligible children and families for which assistance is intended; however, it is important to ensure that these efforts do not inadvertently impair access for eligible families.

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Does ACF intend to change or modify the error rate reporting process?

ACF intends to issue further guidance regarding how policy changes made by reauthorization will be integrated into existing program integrity, monitoring, and error rate reporting requirements in the CCDF program.

1 Note that ACF will also issue regulations and policy guidance on how these provisions apply to Tribes, but will first consult with Tribal Leaders and administrators.  In the interim, Tribes will remain subject to their existing approved CCDF Plans.

2 The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 (Pub.L. 104-193) consolidated funding for child care under section 418 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 618) and made such funding subject to the requirements of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 1990, as amended.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) subsequently designated the combined mandatory and discretionary funding streams as the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program.

3 University of North Carolina, Fran Porter Graham Child Development Institute, “Unstable Child Care can affect Children by Age 4,” November 2014.

4 For purposes of CCDF, relatives are defined as: “A child care provider who is 18 years of age or older who provides child care services only to eligible children who are, by marriage, blood relationship, or court decree, the grandchild, great grandchild, sibling (if such provider lives in a separate residence), niece, or nephew of such provider.”  (Sec. 658P(6)(B))


Last Reviewed: June 19, 2019