Strategies to Guide the Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Relief Funding for Early Care and Education

Research BriefCOVID-19Dec 2 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic created a major upheaval to an already fragile early care and education (ECE) system. As a result of the pandemic, families face additional challenges accessing care and child care providers are experiencing greater financial difficulties and struggling to keep their programs open. The pandemic has also exacerbated the racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequities within the child care system. For instance, the low-paid ECE workforce disproportionately includes women of color and immigrant women,[i] and families with low incomes spend a disproportionate amount of their income on ECE compared to families with higher incomes.[ii] Certain families also face considerable barriers to accessing care. For instance, families living in rural areas,[iii] those with infants and toddlers, those who work non-standard hours, and families with a child with disabilities have fewer child care options.[iv]

Federal COVID-19 relief funds have been a critical support to keep ECE programs afloat and to ensure families can access care. As states strive to spend these funds in ways that support the child care industry and decrease these inequities, they must decide how to equitably distribute federal recovery funds to better support child care providers, as well as families that face greater barriers to accessing care due to systemic inequities.

Since March 2020, Congress has allocated over $52 billion to states through the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to stabilize child care and support working families through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act; the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CCSRA) Act; and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The COVID-19 relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which Congress passed in March 2021, allocated $39 billion for child care. This included approximately $24 billion for stabilization grants to help ECE programs remain open or reopen, and $15 billion for supplemental funding for CCDBG activities to make child care more affordable and accessible.[1],[v] Additionally, ARPA permanently increased the mandatory Child Care Entitlement to States from $2.92 billion to $3.55 billion.[vi] The $15 billion in supplemental CCDBG funds are not restricted to COVID-19 response and can be used to support a variety of activities under the CCDBG 2014 Act, which emphasizes equitable access to high-quality ECE as the legislative intent.

Broadly, the ARPA supplemental CCDBG funding can be used to:

  • Expand access to high-quality child care (e.g., increasing providers’ reimbursement rates, increasing providers’ wages, etc.).
  • Expand access to child care assistance (e.g., increasing eligibility limits, waiving or reducing parent co-payments).
  • Expand outreach on the availability of child care assistance, particularly to underserved communities or populations in states.
  • Provide mental health supports for child care providers and children in their care.
  • Support vaccinations.[vii]


States are working to distribute their COVID-19 relief funds quickly, effectively, and equitably to child care providers and families.

The purpose of this brief is to highlight some of the strategies states are pursuing to address equity in allocating their ARPA child care funds. It also provides a framework to support decision making around how to use recovery funds that focuses on the needs and preferences of families—particularly families that face barriers to accessing high-quality ECE.

Strategies include:

  • Conducting town halls with families, providers, and other early childhood stakeholders to inform state priorities for allocating the funding.
  • Partnering with intermediary organizations to conduct outreach and technical assistance around the stabilization grants with ECE providers.
  • Using the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to distribute grants to ECE providers that serve the communities most in need within their state.

The intent for sharing these strategies is to document some different ways in which states are working to embed equity in their decision-making process. As part of this step, many states are using this funding opportunity to collect additional data to better understand the inequities that young children, families, and providers in the ECE system face in their state. Equipped with these data, states can begin to better define their goals for equitable ECE access and how they can track their progress toward meeting these goals.


[1] The ARPA funding comes on top of prior support for children, families, and child care providers. States received $3.5  billion  in  supplemental  appropriations  for  the  Child  Care  and  Development Block  Grant  (CCDBG) through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and  Economic  Security  (CARES) Act ( ) in March 2020, and $10 Billion for CCDBG funding in December 2020 through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) (


[i] Center  for  the  Study  of  Child  Care  Employment.  (2018).  About  the  2018  Workforce  Index.  University of California, Berkeley.

[ii] Smith, K. & Gozjolko, K. (2010) Low income and impoverished families pay more disproportionately for child care. Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire.

[iii] Paschall,  K.,  Halle,  T.,  &  Maxwell,  K.  (2020).  Early care  and  education  in  rural  communities.  OPRE  Report  #2020-62.  Office of Planning,  Research  and  Evaluation,  Administration  for  Children  and  Families,  U.S.  Department of  Health  and  Human Services.

[iv] Henly, J.R. & Adams, G. (2018) Increasing access to quality child care for four priority populations. The Urban Institute.

[v] Guarino, A. (2021) Child care and early learning in the American Rescue Plan.  First Five Years Fund.

[vi] Girouard, D. (2021) Federal relief funds: State progress, Summer 2021. Child Care Aware of America.

[vii] Administration for Children and Families. (2021). Information memorandum ARP ACT CCDF Discretionary Supplemental Funds. CCDF-ACF-IM-2021-03. Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.