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Child Care Subsidies – Eligibility Overview

California offers many programs for families who might need help paying for child care.  These programs give parents the freedom to work and provide for their family while their children receive safe, stimulating, and nurturing care. This assistance is referred to as child care subsidies

There are two types of subsidies: 

  • Child care programs that are free, and 
  • Programs with vouchers that parents can use to choose any child care provider.

For both types of subsidies, parents may pay a small family fee based on their income.

Eligibility for Subsidies

Each type of subsidy offers different services for children and has its own rules about who is eligible.  Eligibility is often based on why the family needs child care and the family’s income. 

For all subsidized child care, a family must meet at least one of these conditions. 

  • Family is a current aid recipient;
  • Family is income eligible;
  • Family is experiencing homelessness or seeking permanent housing; or
  • Family has children who are recipients of child protective services, or are identified as at risk of being abused, neglected, or exploited.

For most subsidies, the parent must also show that they need child care. This is called family need. They must meet at least one of these conditions.

  • Working;
  • Looking for work;
  • In school or training; 
  • Homeless or seeking shelter; or
  • Incapacitated

More about the Subsidized Programs Available to You

There are many different subsidized child care programs.  This list will tell you the following information for each program:  

  • Services for children and families
  • Eligibility: Income
  • Eligibility: Family need
  • Ages of children served
  • Location of the services

Call your local child care resource and referral agency to get more information for these programs and to learn how to apply to them.

Eligibility List

There are not enough child care subsidies for all families who are eligible, so each program must keep a waiting list.  We call it an eligibility list, because it is not the family who has waited on the list longest who gets served first – the family with the largest family size and lowest income gets served first. Some communities have a Centralized Eligibility List (CEL) so you can sign up once for all programs.  In other communities, you have to sign up for the eligibility list of each program.  

Contact your local child care resource and referral agency to see if your county has a CEL. 

 

What you need to know about the eligibility list:

  • The eligibility lists are often very long.
  • Completing an application does not mean the family is approved for services.
  • You will receive a rank based on your family size and income.  There are many families that will have the same rank as you.
  • The list is not first come first served, but based on your rank.
  • Families with the lowest income are served first.
  • Child Protective Services children have special priority.
  • You need to update the list when you have new contact information, family size, or income.
  • Some communities have a Centralized Eligibility List (CEL) so you can sign up once.  In other communities, you have to sign up for the eligibility list of each program.  Contact your local child care resource and referral agency to see if your county has a CEL.

We welcome you to contact your local child care resource and referral agency to get more information about subsidized child care programs and to learn how to apply to them.

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