Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

For Struggling Houston Families, Child Care Assistance is Critical, but Access is Limited

State-subsidized child care can help Houston’s low-income families make ends meet, but limited funding has led to a waiting list thousands of names long. Furthermore, because income eligibility limits are low, a small raise can mean that families who do receive assistance lose their benefits before their earnings can cover the difference.

Researchers at the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), based at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, say that child care is one of the largest expenses low-income families face, and that increasing access and income eligibility limits for child care assistance could greatly improve the financial outlook for Houston’s low-wage workers and their families.

“Child care assistance is a very effective strategy for helping families to make ends meet and get ahead,” says NCCP Deputy Director Nancy K. Cauthen, PhD.“It allows parents to work full-time, generating income for their families and keeping doors open for workplace advancement.”

Unfortunately, in Houston, a waiting list of over 8,000 names prevents many eligible families from receiving child care benefits. Using a tool called the Family Resource Simulator, NCCP researchers demonstrated the difference that state child care assistance can make for low-income families. For a single parent with two children living in Houston who works a full-time job earning $9 per hour ($2.45 more than minimum wage), they found that:

  • Without child care assistance, the family faces a gap of $6,000 between their annual resources and basic expenses, even with the help of multiple other benefits, including food stamps, public health insurance, and the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • With child care assistance, this parent has just enough to make ends meet and even has a small cushion of about $2,000 annually. This would increase the family's financial security, making the family less vulnerable to sudden financial crises (such as illness, the loss of a job or an unexpected rent increase), and helping eliminate the need for public assistance down the line.

However, NCCP also found that due to low income eligibility limits, many families who need assistance are ineligible for benefits. Furthermore, families who do have assistance and succeed in increasing their earnings become ineligible before they earn enough to afford the cost of child care on their own.

“States should be rewarding work, not punishing it – what kind of message is sent when a parent can’t hold a job while also ensuring his or her children are safe, or when a parent’s raise can actually worsen the family’s situation because a crucial support is taken away?” asks Kinsey Dinan, senior policy associate at NCCP.

NCCP’s analysis of child care assistance for the city of Houston can be seen on our web site; a similar analysis for San Antonio is available as well. NCCP’s data tools, which include Family Resource Simulators for Texas and 19 other states, are also available online.

The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) is the nation’s leading public policy center dedicated to promoting the economic security, health and well-being of America’s low-income families and children.  Part of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, NCCP uses research to inform policy and practice with the goal of ensuring positive outcomes for the next generation.