IOWA LEGISLATURE

Proposals to expand child care opportunities advance in Iowa House

Katie Meisterling reads to 3-year-old JoJo Jakobsen at Little GEM Daycare in Cedar Rapids in 2017. (The Gazette)
Katie Meisterling reads to 3-year-old JoJo Jakobsen at Little GEM Daycare in Cedar Rapids in 2017. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Three child care bills were approved by the Iowa House Ways and Means Committee over Democratic objections that they didn’t go far enough in addressing access and affordability.

“The idea is to incentivize businesses to provide child care ... to either offer an abatement, sales tax relief or tax credit for offering low-cost or no-cost day care for their employees’ children,” Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, said Thursday.

Despite rejecting Democrats’ four-point amendment to not only offer incentives to employers, but to help working families in need of day care, Bloomingdale said there is broad support for addressing child care issues this year.

“Child care is the next workforce issue we need to tackle,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in January during her Condition of the State speech to legislators. “It’s another barrier for families looking for a way up. For some, it’s about affordability; for others, access is the issue; and for thousands of Iowans, it’s both.”

An amendment she offered on all three bills would address the governor’s concerns, said Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque.

“This is a holistic approach to say we need to create more spots for child care assistance, but also more child care facilities,” James said. “We need to work with families that are struggling with the heavy burden of child care costs.”

The bills, approved with bipartisan support, focus on the employer side of the equation, Bloomingdale said. There will be more proposals to double the income level for claiming the day care tax credit, which now is limited to families with incomes of no more than $45,000 a year, and addressing the reimbursement rate for people receiving day care assistance.

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One area of broad agreement that would have been addressed in James’ amendment was the “cliff effect,” which occurs when a family begins to earn above the limits set by the state and becomes ineligible for day care assistance.

“There are moms who need and want to work who often are penalized if they get a raise or make some additional income and lose a benefit that doesn’t make up for the cost of child care,” James said. “We want to encourage them to move up in their working world and receive that benefit of putting in the hard work to earn a raise, but not lose in one fell swoop their child care assistance.”

Reynolds called on lawmakers to address the child care cliff “so we are not punishing parents as they continue on a path to self-sufficiency.” She recommended a tiered copay system.

Bloomingdale speculated the proposals approved in committee and other related bills may be merged into an overarching bill before the session is over.

“It’s not government’s place to do it all, but to incentivize it, encourage it,” she said. “I think maybe we can help with the child care situation in Iowa.”

The bills that are on their way to the full House are House File 2041, HF 2083 and HF2175.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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