Iowa Child Care Crisis Continues Despite Legislative Pressure

Iowa is still experiencing a child custody crisis, advocates and lawmakers say, despite legislation approved this year aimed at alleviating the crisis.

Iowa Legislature Passes Three Child Care Bills this year, ranging from changing tax credits to increasing the number of children in unregulated child care centers. Representative Tracy Ehlert, D-Cedar Rapids, said recent interest in regulating child care services is significant, but it might not be in the right areas.

“The interest is there, it’s the interest in the right areas that is the question,” she said. “I look at all the bills and talk about investing in new centers, whether it’s tax credits for developers or companies opening information centers. But no one is looking at our existing programs and how many of them are under-staffed.

Ehlert, a children’s educator, said she plans to introduce legislation in the next session to correct unresolved errors in the state’s child care systems.

Gradual elimination of the “cliff-edge effect”

Some child care advocates said they were impressed with the Iowa legislature’s commitment to improving the reality of child care in the state, the Iowa executive director said Community Action Association, Katherine Riley Harrington, in an email to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

“We were very impressed with the emphasis this legislature placed on early childhood policy measures and felt that there were many positive policy proposals that were holistic to tackle this important issue and committed to the both employers and suppliers, ”she said.

One of the bills that received unanimous approval in the Iowa House and Senate was House 302 folder, which creates a phasing out of public childcare assistance programs for families with increasing incomes. Before the bill, there had been a sudden drop in benefits, known as the “cliff edge”.

Harrington said it may be too early to know what effect the bill will have in the state, she believes it is well-founded and will help many families in Iowa.

“We have heard for years that the families we serve were making tough choices about increasing hours and increases due to income limits for child care assistance.” , she said.

Sheila Hansen, government relations manager for Common Good Iowa, agreed and said the bill is likely to improve the livelihoods of hundreds of Iowans.

“It will have a positive impact for sure,” she said. “The tax notes indicate that the bill will impact a few hundred people, and those people will be Iowans who can stay on the job.”

Helping unregulated care homes

Among the childcare bills approved this year, House 260 file most state legislators voted against. He still had bipartisan support and passed the House with a 70-24 vote. The bill allows unregulated child care providers to care for a maximum of six children instead of five, provided one of them is of school age.

Ehlert voted against the bill because she said it was not benefiting registered households that are suffering from the pandemic and derecho.

“We are doing very little to support this (regulated) workforce,” she said. “But here we are presenting this bill which says let our unregistered suppliers earn more income and take another child.”

Much work is spent on developing child-to-adult ratios in child care, she said, and increasing the number of places in registered facilities would have been a better step.

Ehlert introduced an amendment to the bill that would require some oversight of these programs through a child welfare agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services. The amendment failed on a 36-58 vote.

Harrington said the Iowa Community Action Association has lobbied against the bill because it discourages vendors from registering with the state.

“Registered day care centers are allowed to look after seven children. This bill allows unregistered providers to care for six children, ”she said. “Iowa Community Action wants to support incentives for child care providers to register.”

Representative Joel Fry, R-Osceola, introduced the bill. During the debate, he said the bill would create a partial solution to some of the problems with the child care shortage in Iowa.

“It’s a little solution to some of the problems in rural Iowa,” he said. “… I would say these are houses where they are family members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, they are neighbors looking after the children in our small communities.”

Ehlert said the Iowan will need to monitor whether injuries to children increase in unregulated facilities over the next few months.

Governor launches child care task force

Governor Kim Reynolds launched his child care task force in March. The group is tasked with developing new strategies to alleviate the child care shortage in Iowa.

Hansen said she expects the task force to play a role in how lawmakers discuss and create child care legislation in the state. She expects some of the task force’s recommendations will require action by the Legislative Assembly.

One of the reasons the working group was created was due to the loss of childcare businesses in the past five years. Ehlert said she hopes lawmakers will look for ways to support care centers and registered workers to ensure people stay in the child care industry.

State Representative Tracy Ehlert is a Democrat from Cedar Rapids. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature)

“We are absolutely still in a child care crisis,” she said. “Here in Linn County, we just closed another center. It affected 60 families… and they gave the families two days’ notice. They started tracking data last summer, due to COVID, and we’ve lost almost 40 programs, just in Linn County. “

Moving forward

One of the issues Hansen and Harrington want discussed in the next legislative session is whether to allow more Iowans to qualify for child care assistance. Harrington said it was the next step in improving child care services in the state.

“We want the legislature to have addressed increasing the level of income eligibility to receive child care assistance to 185% of the federal poverty level,” she said. Currently it is 145%. Access to child care has a huge impact on self-sufficiency.

Raising eligibility further than what’s been accomplished this year, Hansen said, would be life-changing for families in Iowa. However, she said there must be daycare centers for parents to send their children.

“We can increase eligibility and make more families eligible for child care, but we need to have quality spaces available for these families to send their children,” she said. “There has to be a way to do both at the same time. ”

Ehlert said she hopes Iowa will make the most of this year’s legislation and that the Legislature will continue to invest in the state’s child care programs. One of her biggest concerns is making sure daycares have the staff they need to help families in Iowa.

“Most of these (closures) are due to the fact that they can’t find staff to work there,” she said. “The center which has just closed, I am afraid that these staff could go to any other center in the city and find a job without problem because they have experience and the centers are hiring, but I am not sure that “They’re going to stay in the field. They could find a job at Target and earn $ 15 an hour with benefits.”

Hansen said Iowa got off to a good start with the new laws, but the fight for better child care in Iowa is far from over. She said she hopes lawmakers will continue to focus on the issue in future sessions.

“I am optimistic,” she said. “… Our work is not done. I was very grateful to the lawmakers and we appreciate the work they did, but we cannot rest on our goals. We have a lot of work to do.

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