Cities and Towns in the United States /Social » How to Apply for Child Care Government Programs in the US

For families that need help paying for child care, some government programs come in handy. What are they, and what do they entail? Let's find out.

Note: The online child care search in your state or territory may reveal if a service participates in a government financial help program or offers its own financial aid or discounts. Visit the "Find Child Care" on to find your state or territory's online child care details.

Government programs for families that need help paying for child care

What child care financial assistance programs are and which are available

In the US, government programs to support child care include:

Child care financial aid (sometimes known as subsidies, vouchers, or certificates)

Families without sufficient income can use these programs to help pay for child care to go to work or to school. Each state has its own set of eligibility standards. To explore your local child assistance aid program, click on "See Your State's Resources" website and look where it says "Financial Assistance for Families."

Early Head Start and Head Start

These programs assist children from the time they’re born until they are age five to get ready for school and assist with their early education, development, mental health, and overall physical health.

Head Start and Early Head Start are free to families with low incomes that qualify. To discover Head Start and Early Head Start programs in your state/territory, click on "See Your State's Resources" website and look under "Child Development and Early Learning."

State-sponsored Prekindergarten

Prekindergarten programs financed by the state serve children aged 3 to 5 years old and are intended to prepare them for early education. In some states, families can get these services for free or at reduced costs if they qualify. Part- and full-day programs are available.

To find out if public prekindergarten is offered in your state or territory, check "See Your State's Resources" and look under "Child Development and Early Learning."

Financial aid for military children's care

Several programs exist to assist military families meet childcare costs, regardless of where they are posted. Click on Child Care Financial Assistance for Military Families to get additional information.

Apply for child care financial assistance programs

Programs for Native Hawaiians, Native Alaskans, and American Indians

Financial Assistance for Tribal Child Care

The government funds several Tribes and Tribal organizations to help Tribal families afford child care. American Indian and Alaska Native children can access in excess of 150 Head Start and Early Head Start initiatives.

If you are lost, check out Head Start Center Locator to find these programs.

Child Care for Hawai'i's Indigenous Peoples, Pacific Islanders, and Preschool Programs

Hawaii has programs that help the natives of Hawai'i and the Pacific Islands with the expense of child care and kindergarten.

Families can get in touch with PATCH for more information.

Who can apply; where and how to apply?

To be eligible for the child care programs, you must be a parent or primary caregiver for kids under the age of 13 or under the age of 19 if unable of self-care or under court supervision. You must also describe your financial status as low or very low income. To be eligible, you must be working or enrolled in a training or education program in some states.

NOTE: We recommend checking your eligibility and application in online resources (see links included in the descriptions above).

You can apply using paper or do it online. The paper application is about nine pages long, including instructions and asking questions to prove identity, residence, etc. You can mail, fax, or deliver the paper application in person.

The online format is a combined application where you can choose the program you would like to apply for and answer questions (they vary depending on the program selected).

Requirements and documentation needed

Depending on the state or territory, the requirements and documentation could vary slightly from one place to the next. However, the most common required documents fall into the following categories:

  • Proof of identity- This could be a birth certificate, baptism record (for kids under 18), or social security number.

  • Proof of your address- This could be a current utility bill, a pay stub with the address on it, rent receipts, a section 8 award letter, or other certificate proving you live in the state or territory of application.

  • Proof of legal US residence- The parent's immigration status may not always affect eligibility since it is based on the child's status. The child needs to be a citizen and legal resident. You will need the immigration department form I-94, alien registration card, lawyer's letter, or naturalization papers for proof.

  • Proof of income and benefits- To be eligible, you have to verify all income and benefits received by your family if; you are employed and work at least 20 hours a week, are self-employed, get alimony or child support or get SSI Disability, Retirement, Pension/Annuities, and Social Security income.

  • Reason for needing the program- If the income requirements are met, you may need to demonstrate at least one reason for child care, including attending school or vocational training, working 20 or more hours a week, and getting prevention or protective services.

What happens after you apply?

You will get feedback 4 to 6 weeks after submitting your application. The information you are given tells you how long you must wait to get the benefits. In some states, you may find a waiting list for some counties, which could impact how long you have to wait.


CCAP is not free. Just about all parents are required to pay a portion of the monthly child care costs, called a co-payment or co-pay. CCAP operates on a sliding price scale, implying that better-income families pay a greater co-pay than lower-income families.

The county in which you live also contributes to the expense of your child's care. Payments will be delivered to you if the child care is provided in your home. Payments will be issued to your provider when the child care is provided at home or a center.

Your monthly payments (parent co-pay) are determined based on income and household size. Some families with meager incomes are not required to co-pay, while others pay anywhere from $10 to several hundred dollars a month.


You will usually be approved for 3, 6, or 12 months at a time, depending on where you reside. To continue receiving help, you must renew your child care case before your approval term expires. This is done via completing a "Redetermination" form. This form will be mailed to you one month before the expiration of your eligible term.