With the leadership of Parent Voices’ efforts, families will have a more equitable family fee schedule that minimizes tradeoffs between paying for child care and other essentials. Starting October 1, 2023, families below 75% of the state median income (SMI) will no longer pay a family fee, and fees will be capped at 1% for families at 75% or over the SMI.
Affordable and nurturing child care is essential for supporting California’s families. While federal relief dollars provided one-time funding to support California’s child care system during COVID-19, this funding is not ongoing, and many families will soon face the reality of higher costs for child care. This is particularly consequential for women of color who were far more likely to experience the economic effects of the COVID-19 recession.
According to data collected in 2020, Latinx, Black, and most other women of color were far more likely to live in households that were behind on their rent or mortgage payment and in households struggling to afford enough food. During this time, the state suspended the requirement for families participating in the state child care subsidy program to pay any fees associated with child care, otherwise known as “family fees.” This suspension expires on September 30, 2023.
However, with the leadership of Parent Voices’ organizing and advocacy efforts (as further detailed below), starting October 1, 2023, families will have a more equitable family fee schedule that minimizes tradeoffs between paying for child care and other basic needs. State leaders now have the opportunity to adopt a family fee schedule that truly minimizes economic challenges already faced by many California families.
About This Report
This Issue Brief was co-authored with Parent Voices. Through grassroots organizing and leadership development, Parent Voices activates and centers the wisdom of parents to transform child care and ensure all systems that impact California families are just, fair, and inclusive.
Special thank you to Marisol Rosales, a parent leader with Parent Voices, for translating this piece into Spanish.
About Family Fees
Family fees vary depending on a family’s income. A family earning up to 85% of the state median income (SMI) qualifies for the state subsidized child care program.1Families earning up to 100% of the state median income qualify for the California State Preschool Program. A family fee amount for both full-day and part-day care is associated with income levels up to 85% SMI. These families must pay an income-based family fee to access subsidized full-day or part-day care.
The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) sets the fee amounts for each income level in a “family fee schedule” each fiscal year. These fees have been unaffordable for low to moderate income California families, forcing them to make hard choices between paying for child care and other basic needs such as food and housing.
However, the 2023-24 Budget Act permanently revised the family fee schedule to make these payments more affordable. Specifically, starting October 1, 2023, families below 75% of the SMI will no longer pay a family fee, and fees will be capped at 1% for families at 75% or over the SMI. The table below shows a family’s annual income at 75% of the SMI.2SMI estimates are based off of the 2021 American Community Survey.
Annual Income at 75% of the SMI
|Family Size||Annual Income|
Moreover, outstanding fees prior to October 1, 2023 will be waived. While the 2023-24 Budget Act reflects Parent Voices’ main family fee reform points (as detailed below), the specific family fee schedule reflecting these points has yet to be confirmed.
Toward a More Equitable Family Fee Schedule
Since 2019, Parent Voices’ parent leaders have voiced their frustrations and concerns about the high price of family fees. They pointed to the schedule’s confusing formatting and how high family fees limited what was possible for their families. Parent leaders learned that other states have more affordable family fee schedules that are easier to understand.
Namely, parent leaders drew inspiration from South Dakota’s family fee schedule which capped payments at 1% of a family’s income, as well as Washington state’s schedule which had an easy-to-understand format. What emerged from this research and conversations was a clear vision for improvements to California’s family fee schedule, including:
- Removing family fees for all families up to 75% of the SMI.
- For families at 75% of the SMI or higher, paying fees on an equitable sliding scale capped at 1% of their income.
- Simplifying the family fee schedule so that key income levels are grouped together.
- Stopping the collection of delinquent family fees.
Parent Voices, with the support of the Child Care Resource Center and Every Child California, translated this dream into a concrete family fee schedule that would allow families to minimize the tradeoffs they often make between child care and basic needs. The family fee schedule proposed by Parent Voices is endorsed by their parent leaders and reflects substantial savings from the original CDSS 2023-24 family fee schedule.
Expanding Opportunities with a New Family Fee Schedule
The table below shows how much of a family’s income must be spent on family fees under the CDSS 2023-24 fee schedule and under Parent Voices’ proposed schedule for a single parent with one child.
Percent of Income Spent on Family Fees for a Family of Two
|State Median Income||Annual Income||Percent of Income Paid in Family Fees: |
CDSS FY 23-24 Schedule
|Percent of Income Paid in Family Fees: Parent Voices Schedule|
|40% to 74%||$34,606 – $64,020||2.5% – 9.9%||0%|
With the Parent Voices family fee schedule, in some cases, families would recoup over nearly 10% of their annual income. The chart below shows the amount of money California families of two would save from using the Parent Voices family fee schedule. The table that follows shows the amount owed in family fees at 75% of the SMI for various-sized households.
Amount Owed Annually on Family Fees for a Family at 75% of the SMI
|Family Size||23-24 CDSS Schedule||Parent Voices Schedule|
Parent leaders shared what this reclaimed income could make possible for their families:
Based on prior year enrollment numbers, using the current CDSS family fee schedule, families would collectively pay over $100 million in families fees over the course of the year. The 2023-24 Budget Act will create a significant reduction in the amount of family fees, and state leaders will act in the coming months to solidify a revised family fee scale to determine exactly how much this reduction will be.
As state leaders decide on the new 2023-24 family fee schedule, Parent Voices’ proposed family fee schedule provides a model to ensure that families – particularly those headed by women of color like Elizabeth, Stevie, and Karina – have the income needed to pay for basic needs such as rent, utilities, and groceries, to open up possibilities for achieving their professional and educational goals and provide an enriching life for their children.