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Provide Supports for Children, Families, and Communities

In This Section: 

  • Change policies to TANF and other cash-assistance programs to improve access to benefits and better serve families.
  • Develop revenue-based strategies to enhance families’ financial resources.
  • Address food insecurity.
  • Provide paid family and medical leave. 

The well-being of children, families, educators, and providers in child care systems is inextricably tied to the strength of economic support and safety net programs for families and low-income individuals. According to some measures, child poverty fell nearly 60 percent between 1993 and 2019. Then came a pandemic that threatened families’ economic security anew – and some families more than others. 

As federal rescue and relief dollars run out, states have a variety of policy levers that can improve the economic conditions for families, including child care providers, many of whom continue to work under poverty level wages and qualify for public benefits. Below are recent policy actions that all states can learn from.

Change policies to TANF and other cash assistance programs to improve access to benefits and better serve families.

States have flexibility in setting eligibility requirements, work requirements, time limits, application requirements and benefit amounts. They can use this flexibility to expand eligibility and benefits to additional families, with priority for those with very young children, those experiencing housing instability, and other families with traumatic situations, as well as to make it easier for families to participate in TANF and to receive child care and other supports while they are receiving cash assistance.

Maine and Maryland joined Illinois and the District of Columbia as states that have repealed full TANF family sanctions, which take away assistance for the entire family if the parent doesn’t meet work or other requirements. Only three other states – California, New York, and Vermont – don’t impose this penalty.

Washington and Indiana have modified policies to maintain TANF benefits for families when circumstances change, such as increase in the unemployment rate or in the family income up to a certain amount.

In 2023, New Mexico increased TANF cash assistance, while Indiana increased benefit amounts and raised the income eligibility levels for receiving TANF. Indiana also passed legislation allowing pregnant women who meet the income requirements to be eligible for TANF. Georgia expanded TANF eligibility to include pregnant women as well.  

Develop revenue-based strategies to enhance families’ financial resources.

States can use policies to support the economic security of families, by providing and increasing refundable earned income tax credits (EITCs) and dependent care tax credits, by creating wealth building trusts like “baby bonds,” and by reforming the state income tax system to decrease the burden on low-income families and eliminating the tax burden for families with young children.

In 2023, a number of states increased the earned income tax credit (Hawaii, Connecticut) or expanded eligibility for the credit (Maryland, Vermont).

Nebraska passed a package of tax credits that support families, providers, early childhood educators, and taxpayers who make qualifying contributions to early childhood education programs. $15 million of this package is dedicated to refundable tax credits for families who has one or more children in a licensed or license-exempt ECE program that participates in the subsidy system. Households with incomes below poverty are eligible for this credit.

In 2022, New Jersey and Vermont established child tax credits targeted to families with young children. New Jersey’s Young Child Tax Credit provides a refundable tax credit of up to $500 per year for families with children under the age of 5 and earning less than $80,000 per year. Vermont passed a refundable tax credit of $1,000 for the same age group for families earning below $125,000 per year. Other states that have created new child tax credits since 2022 include New Mexico, Minnesota, Oregon, and Utah.

In 2023, 18 states created new or improved upon their child tax credits. For example, New York expanded their child tax credit to include babies and toddlers, and Maryland broadened eligibility for their CTC by raising the income threshold. Maine made its dependent exemption tax creditrefundable. Vermont expanded both the child tax credit and the EITC to cover residents without tax identification numbers and set up a system for advanced quarterly payments.

Connecticut and the District of Columbia both created trusts in which the state invests annually for each child in eligible lower-income families. Children can access funds in these trusts when they turn 18.

The New York Department of Taxation and Finance examined the experiences of those applying for earned income credits and made recommendations for improvements to the application process.

Address food insecurity.

While most nutrition supports are federally funded, states have some flexibility in how they design their application and eligibility policies and through expanded outreach efforts to inform families about the opportunity to access supports. States can also use data to identify enrollment gaps and share information across programs to ensure families can access all supports for which they are eligible. They should also remove all application barriers, such as requirements for cooperation with child support enforcement before a family can receive food or child care assistance.

In 2023, Minnesota joined 7 other states (California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, and Vermont) to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students who enroll in schools that participate in the federal school meals program. Vermont made this policy permanent in 2023.

Provide paid family and medical leave.

According to the US Department of Labor, about 75 percent of private sector workers do not have paid family leave through their jobs.1

 States can establish paid leave benefits or augment family leave by extending the number of weeks allowed with wage replacement and ensuring that pregnancy, child birth, and adoption qualify for leave.

Four states – Maryland, Delaware, Maine, and Minnesota – established paid family and medical leave benefits in 2022 and 2023. They join 10 other states with this policy – California, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Colorado (implementation starts January 2024).

New Jersey sought to improve access to PFML benefits by employing human-centered design strategies to increase awareness and simplify the application process. For example, the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development developed the Maternity Coverage Timeline to help expecting parents understand their options and plan for the application process.


1. Paid Family and Medical Leave Fact Sheet, US Department of Labor