116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Child care in Iowa is costly and scarce, longtime problems only worsened by the pandemic. It’s a crisis that’s costing Iowa nearly $1 billion annually in employee absences, turnover and lost tax revenues, according to a task force appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
So it’s good news that $200 million in federal pandemic aid will be distributed as grants to child care facilities that took an economic hit as COVID-19 spread across Iowa. Reynolds announced that the state also will make $10 million in grants available build new facilities or expand existing ones.
Among 15 recommendations from the task force, Reynolds said Iowa will implement a shared services system allowing day care providers to pool business functions, such as purchasing, to cut costs. Providers who “go above and beyond” will receive state recognition.
These moves represent a welcome step forward in addressing the crisis. The task force found that Iowa leads the nation in the percentage households where all parents work. Nearly a quarter of Iowans live in a “child care desert,” an area with a critical shortage of providers. In rural Iowa, 35 percent of Iowans live in child care deserts.
Child care costs Iowans, on average, more than $1,000 per month, topping housing costs for many families.
“We’re going to support working families, fill in the gaps in Iowa’s child care system, and do everything that we can to unleash our state’s incredible workforce,” Reynolds said while announcing distribution of grant funding last week.
But her announcement and the task force’s recommendations don’t directly address another big problem contributing to the child care crisis. Pay for child care workers is low. The median salary is $22,260 annually, or $10.70 per hour. Given the responsibility they bear for caring for our children, those wages are shamefully inadequate. High turnover and worker shortages plague the industry.
State recognition is great. But a decent paycheck would be better.
And although Democrats in Congress provided child care aid, they have not delivered on requiring paid family leave. The lack of paid leave puts more pressure on working families to find child care.
We also call on the governor to periodically report on the progress being made thanks to grant dollars and other changes. We’ve seen task forces and grants come and go over the years. But Iowans caught up in the crisis deserve to know if the governor truly is following through on her pledge to do everything she can.
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