Child-Care Subsidies: Do They Impact the Quality of Care Children Experience?


  • The authors would like to thank Irv Garfinkel, Wen-Jui Han, Anne Martin, Gary Natriello, Jane Waldfogel, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. This research was supported by Grant 90YE0111 to the first author from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Grant F32-HD068083-01 to the first author from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. However, the contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views of, or endorsement by, the funding agencies.

concerning this article should be addressed to Anna D. Johnson, Georgetown University, 3700 O Street NW, 301H White Gravenor, Washington, DC 20057. Electronic mail may be sent to


The federal child-care subsidy program represents one of the government’s largest investments in early care and education, but little is known about whether it increases low-income children’s access to higher quality child care. This study used newly available nationally representative data on 4-year-old children (= 750) to investigate whether subsidy receipt elevates child-care quality. Results indicate that subsidy recipients use higher quality care compared to nonrecipients who use no other publicly funded care, but lower quality care compared to nonrecipients who instead use Head Start or public pre-k. Findings suggest that subsidies may have the potential to enhance care quality but that parents who use subsidies are not accessing the highest quality care available to low-income families.