Iowa is facing a child care crisis in both urban and rural areas and it’s grown significantly worse during the pandemic.
As father of three, I know the high costs and lack of child care options in Iowa. Nearly a quarter of the state’s residents are estimated to live in a child care desert, while the annual cost has been estimated to be more than tuition at one of Iowa’s public universities. While this shortage directly impacts families with small kids, it also hurts Iowa’s economy and acts as a huge barrier in recruiting and building a diverse and skilled workforce.
When the session began, House Democrats introduced several bills to improve the child care crisis Iowa faces today: providing grants to expand and open new licensed child care facilities; creating new partnerships with small businesses to expand child care; expanding the Child Care and Dependent Care Tax Credit; and ensuring children are kept safe while receiving care.
The issue of child care affordability and accessibility will only be solved by big ideas and solutions. The Iowa House has passed a host of childcare initiatives, but these proposals from the Majority Party only scratch the service.
House File 292 raises rates for providers that accept child care assistance funds for families. Another bill, House File 302, creates a state-funded program to allow families to gradually get off assistance as their wages increase. For a family that is near the income limit, even a slight raise would disqualify them for the benefit and be subject to the full child care costs, which is called the “cliff effect”. House File 301 establishes a child care workforce state matching grants to create more jobs in the childcare field.
Unfortunately, these bills have been stalled in the Senate so far this session.
The good news is that Iowa is getting some significant assistance from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to help with our child care crisis. Over $227 million in grants are being sent here to help child care providers to reopen or stay open, provide safe and healthy learning environments, keep workers on payroll, and provide mental health support for educators and children.
Another $142 million in federal funding is on the way to make child care more affordable for more families, increase access to high-quality care for families receiving subsidies, increase compensation for early childhood workers, and meet other care needs in the state.
With the Legislature expected to adjourn in the next week or so, it’s essential that we take bold action to help parents and providers through this crisis. The federal assistance is a huge boost, but Iowa families can’t afford to wait on state lawmakers for another year.