Spending on childcare assistance last year fell to the lowest level since 2002, according to a report from the policy organization CLASP.

The dip is due to lack of support for the primary fund that helps low-income parents afford childcare — the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Spending on that grant is at a decade low. Between that and cuts in childcare subsidies only $11.4 billion was spent on childcare last year, down from $12.9 billion the year before, according to thinkprogress.org.

This comes at a time when childcare is more expensive than ever. Putting two children in full-time care represents the single biggest expense for a household in the Northeast, Midwest and South.

Childcare is more costly than annual median rent in every state, and more expensive than mortgages in 19 states, including the District of Columbia. The cost of putting a baby in a childcare center is more than what the average family spends on food in every region of the country, and can even be more expensive than college tuition at state schools in 31 states, according to a report from Child Care Aware.

As subsidies taper off, fewer children are getting childcare. Approximately 1.5 million children a month received childcare thanks to CCDBG aid last year — the lowest number since 1998. The number of children has shrunk by nearly 263,000 since 2006, according to the CLASP report.

The cuts create a crisis for working parents, especially since three-quarters of all families are headed by one or two working parents. In these families, nearly 11 million children under the age of 5 spend time in child care each week. These families are left to scramble for solutions for what to do with their kids while they are at work. Just 40 percent of children ages 3 to 5 are enrolled in pre-school, and less than a third of 4-year-olds are in state-funded pre-K programs according to data from kidscount.org.

To relieve the burden of childcare, congressmen introduced a bill in November to expand quality childcare and preschool, and President Obama has allocated $75 billion in funding over the next decade. This will come as a boon to single-parent families especially those who are caught in the conundrum of leaving the workforce to care for their children or paying out of pocket, and that can eat up more than one-third of a low-income family's budget, according to the Center for American Progress.

Email: laneanderson@deseretnews.com