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Iowa’s child care crisis needs everyone’s help
Cedar Rapids panel reviews what’s needed
By Pat Badtke, - correspondent
Dec. 15, 2022 5:00 am
In Iowa, “we pay people more to take care of our hamburgers than we do to take care of our children,” Dawn Oliver Wiand says.
The average Iowa child care worker earns $10.73 per hour. Only locker room attendants and lifeguards make less per hour, according to information presented Wednesday at a panel discussion in Cedar Rapids about the state’s child care crisis.
“Businesses lose money because there is not adequate child care for employees,” Oliver Wiand, president and CEO of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, told the child care providers, child care business owners and the business community gathered at the Catherine McAuley Center.
The lack of adequate, affordable child care impacts Iowa’s economy, with a negative impact of an estimated $935 million, or almost a billion dollars, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,
The crisis is gaining more attention and attracting more government and taxpayer assistance.
By way of example, Oliver Wiand pointed to the $36.6 million awarded from the Iowa Child Care Challenge Fund this fall to create to support an estimated 5,200 child care slots in Iowa.
The total included $26.9 million in federal Department of Human Service funds, $6.7 million in federal pandemic funds and $3 million appropriated by the Iowa Legislature.
The awards are being matched with $9.7 million in private funding for 108 child care projects in 72 communities.
One of the grants, for almost $750,000, went to the new Fields of Fun child care center in southwest Cedar Rapids, which will have the capacity for 275 children.
Oliver Wiatt encouraged those at the panel discussion to think bigger, bolder and long-term about child care, saying it will take time, effort and focus to implement sustainable change.
“Use your voice. Quality and safe child care should be in the forefront,” she said in encouraging people to talk to their state and federal lawmakers.
More child care slots are needed, more training is needed for child care workers, and those workers need better pay and benefits, she said.
In a state that has more job openings than available workers, businesses and employers should be encouraged to assist in developing child care solutions so parents are free to seek outside employment, she said.
Also needed, she said:
- Raise the income limits on child care assistance programs, so more parents can qualify for subsidies.
- Implement tax cuts and credits to encourage more participation in the child care workforce.
U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson of Marion recently introduced legislation in Congress that would reauthorize Child Care and Development Block Grants. The proposal would direct more money to the states for child care services.
The block grant program expired in fiscal 2020, but annual appropriations acts have continued to provide funding.
The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, would raise the income level to 150 percent of a state’s median income so more families can qualify for assistance.
In Iowa, that would mean a family of four could have an income of up to $147,000 and still qualify for assistance in paying for child care, though families earning less would be given priority, Hinson said.
In addition, the bill would provide assistance and support for home-based and family child care providers, including faith-based providers.
And it would allow states to offer training to child care workers and assist in their recruitment and retention.
Oliver Wiand welcomed the proposal as “a good start.”
“There is not one perfect solution to the child care crisis, but the reauthorization of the (child care block grants) will help create a more accessible, affordable, high-quality child care system for Iowans,” she told The Gazette last week. “And when that system is sustained by a professional, competitive and compensated workforce, everybody wins."