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Editorial Fellow | Nichole Shaw
Earlier this week, you might have come across the staff editorial regarding Iowa’s loss of funding for child care and housing at the hands of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration. What was at stake? A total of $30 million in federal child care funding for a state known for its prolific child care deserts. In Iowa, one of the state’s biggest concerns should be access to child care, especially as the pandemic has exacerbated worker shortages.
In the past five years in Linn County specifically, the total number of child care programs has decreased by 15 percent, according to data from Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral. At the state level, it’s decreased by 22 percent. The governor’s office itself states: “Iowa has lost 33 percent of its child care businesses and the state is short 350,000 child care slots for children younger than 12 years old. Twenty-three percent of Iowans live in child care deserts, areas with shortages of licensed providers.”
Why is all this important? Aside from the importance of early childhood care and learning programs for our youth to succeed in the future, it's known a lack of child care directly impacts the state’s overall workforce and economy. “Despite Iowa having the highest labor force participation among all 50 states, child care challenges, like affordability and lack of access, prevent many Iowa parents from working or pursuing education,” according to a 2020 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report. As a result of the child care crisis in Iowa, it also costs roughly $1 billion in lost tax revenue and employee absences — and that’s each year, according to the governor’s office.
With so much at stake, one wonders why an elected representative of the state would reject much-needed funds for the people after boasting the state wrapped up a hefty $1.9 billion surplus in its budget. The Reynolds administration states it did not want to pay $3 million to receive the federal child care grant, Iowa Capital Dispatch’s Clark Kaufman reports. However, Democratic State Sen. Claire Celsi claims the state did not review or submit the necessary paperwork on time after a conversation with the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services. Regardless of what the case is, it’s clear the Reynolds administration and associates are not prioritizing funding allocation for a dire public need, as my colleagues have reported — and one has to wonder why?
It’s clear Reynolds is aware there is a real threat to public needs being met in Iowa as it concerns child care. It’s also clear Reynolds is aware human services and access to health care is a legitimate concern, as just earlier this year, she supported House File 2578 to merge current functions of the Iowa Department of Humans Services and the Iowa Department of Health. In fact, Reynolds was the one who proposed the Child Care Challenge Fund in Iowa should use $3 million in state funds in 2022 to jump-start long-term strategy to resolve the child care crisis.
But, regardless of an acute awareness of the state’s significant child care crisis, Reynolds has opted to leave funding at the $26.6 million in grant funding she awarded to “23 projects intended to help businesses jump-start new child care opportunities and make it easier for Iowans to find child care options through their employer” with her Child Care Business Incentive Grant. While that was certainly a positive development on the access to child care front, it certainly doesn’t excuse the refusal to match $3 million in state funds for tens of millions of dollars of federal funding.
Keep in mind the context of Iowa’s nearly $2 billion budget surplus. And, as Gazette’s own Erin Murphy reported: “In addition to the general fund budget surplus, Iowa’s cash reserve fund contains $830 million and its taxpayer relief fund has just more than $1 billion.” While “the governor has no authority over how the surplus is spent under state law,” according to PolitiFact, “a governor can influence more spending by the Legislature.”
Gov. Reynolds certainly has the power and resources to influence lawmakers on budgeting. She’s just choosing not to. It’s about time the people of Iowa demand accountability from the official they’ve elected to represent them and address their needs. It’s apparent the governor is content with ignoring those needs in favor of touting transphobic and anti-LGBTQ+ messages in ads that say, “Iowans still know boys from girls” and a midterms election campaign that largely succeeded from fear mongering about trans children.
The decision to pass on millions in federal child care funding disregards the real needs of Iowans who live in child care deserts — Iowans who work too hard and can’t even find care for their children, much less adequate care. I ask the people of Iowa, is this the governance you voted for this midterm? Are you happy with your decision? The people have power in their collective voice. Demand accountability. Demand real change that services real hardworking people.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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