College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

From CEED: CEED, Department of Applied Economics win $1.4 million federal grant for study of child care assistance

Researchers at the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) and the Department of Applied Economics were awarded a $1.4 million grant for Coordinated Evaluation of Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Payment Policies, a research project evaluating child care subsidies in Minnesota. The grant for the four-year project was awarded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Co-principal investigators Ann Bailey, PhD, director of CEED, and Elizabeth E. Davis, PhD, professor of applied economics, will lead the project to measure the effects of child care subsidy policies on families’ access to high quality child care.

Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) provides subsidies to low-income families with funding from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. About 30,000 children and 15,000 families receive child care assistance each month in Minnesota through CCAP. The purpose of the Child Care and Development Fund is to ensure that families who receive child care assistance have “equal access to child care services comparable to those provided to families not eligible” for such assistance. Having equal access means that families should be able to find care that meets several criteria. It should be: 

  • Reasonably affordable
  • Reasonably convenient in terms of hours of operation and location
  • High quality; i.e., supportive of child development

“Quality child care opens doors to employment, education, and training for parents. It also supports children’s healthy growth and academic achievement,” says Bailey. “Its importance to the functioning of our society and our economy, as well as to individual opportunity, can’t be overstated. Yet so many families have a tough time finding quality child care that they can afford. That’s especially true for our communities of color, immigrant communities, and rural communities. CCAP is designed to address that issue.”

Since 2014, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services has made several major updates to CCAP. These updates create natural experimental conditions, representing an opportunity to evaluate CCAP’s impact before and after implementation of the changes. Bailey, Davis, and their research team will look primarily at changes to subsidy payment rates. Other policies of interest include family copays, payment for enrollment versus attendance, speed of payment, and the administrative burden of participation. 

The researchers will partner with Minnesota’s Department of Human Services to compile and analyze data related to families who enroll in CCAP, such as demographic and geographic information. They will model the number of families eligible for CCAP and compare that with participation rates and county-level waitlists. They will also look at providers’ participation in CCAP as well as their participation and rating in Parent Aware, Minnesota’s voluntary child care quality rating and improvement system. In addition, the research team plans to measure CCAP’s effects on parents’ employment and children’s school success. 

The project will also include a large-scale qualitative study. The researchers will survey and interview providers and families who participated in CCAP as well as those who did not. This will allow for a better understanding of how policies influence providers’ decisions to accept subsidies and families’ decisions to obtain subsidies. It will also shed light on families’ decision-making process as they choose providers. 

“We believe that our evaluation methodology will result in actionable findings for Minnesota and for other states as well,” says Davis. “For example, some states use a market price approach to setting subsidy payment rates. Other states use a cost modeling approach. Our study will determine how an increase in payment rates affects families’ access to care regardless of the approach used to set rates. There is so much to learn about the policy levers that states can use to maximize the effectiveness of programs like CCAP.”

In addition to Bailey and Davis, the project team will include Jonathan Borowsky, JD, PhD (Department of Applied Economics); Alyssa S. Meuwissen, PhD (CEED); Mary McEathron, PhD (CEED); Meredith Reese (CEED); Aaron Sojourner, PhD (W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research); and Barbara Vang (CEED).