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Jennifer Banta knew the shortage and cost of child care was a major workforce issue long before the pandemic took hold and brought the conversation to light across the country.
Banta works as vice president, advocacy and community development, for the Iowa City Area Business Partnership and leads efforts to address important issues in Johnson County by collaborating with community partners.
In 2019, she began hearing consistently from business partners that access to child care was a major workforce challenge.
“We were hearing that women were leaving the workplace or choosing not to enter the workplace because they didn't have access to high quality affordable, child care, especially after having a second baby,” she said.
“It was just so expensive.”
While Banta’s own children are now grown, she could relate to these challenges.
Through her role, Banta spearheaded a community conversation around child care and developed the Johnson County Child Care Coalition that convened a number of community conversations to talk through child care barriers locally.
Through these efforts, Banta was then appointed to the Governor’s Child Care Task Force and has been an advocate for access to high quality, affordable child care at the state and federal level since.
As the pandemic set in, the issues around child care became more dire and complicated. Meetings continued virtually and included local providers to help incorporate their perspective and work through ways to keep their doors open for essential workers during the pandemic, such as bus drivers, grocery store staff and nurses.
“During that time, we were able to build a lot of trust with a lot of different organizations,” she recalled.
Banta worked to help launch the Neighborhood NESTS — Nurturing Every Student Together Safely — to help Iowa City’s underserved students learn in a safe space with adult supervision and internet access during the pandemic.
She brought together not-for-profits, school district leaders, child care providers and community members to ensure vulnerable students wouldn’t slip through the cracks during this especially challenging time.
She and her collaborators also recently were successful in securing significant funding to help retain and recruit child care professionals in Johnson County.
“Our child care workers are underpaid, but it’s a slippery slope to pay them more because those costs then get passed along to parents making child care less affordable,” she explained, noting that some $700,000 over the next four years in American Rescue Plan Act funding will go to wage supplements.
“I feel like that's a game-changer. And it’s encouraging because we knew when we first started this coalition is that wanted to tackle wages both policy-wise and at a very local level,” Banta said.
While the work to address child care challenges continues and other issues will come up for the community to face, Banta still appreciates her work, day in and day out.
“I just have this awesome job where I get to collaborate and connect people and problem solve and try to make this place a little bit better,” Banta said.
“I don't know if there's a better job than that.”
Business 380 spotlights some of HER Magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.