IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa House approves five child care assistance bills

The House of Representatives chambers are seen at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette
The House of Representatives chambers are seen at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — As part of a bipartisan commitment to address workforce issues, the Iowa House on Monday tackled a handful of proposals to increase the accessibility and affordability of child care.

Iowa faces a child care crisis, according to various lawmakers who spoke to five bills approved by lopsided votes in during evening debate. They said 75 percent of Iowa children younger than 6 have all parents working, there is a shortfall of more than 361,000 child care slots, and Iowa has lost 42 percent of its child care providers over the last five years.

“There is a definite need, and that is why the majority party will be doing several bills to address that shortage, because the majority party certainly recognizes the great need out there,” Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said about House File 2600.

It would create a child care workforce state matching grant program that would be available to communities that provide funding for the child care WAGE$ program, which provides salary supplements.

Republicans may recognize the need, but their proposals didn’t go near far enough, Democrats said.

“This is only a skeleton of a program,” Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said about the bill, which did not include an appropriation.

The five bills were approved with only three “no” votes, but Democrats offered amendments to go further than Republicans were willing to go.

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Rep. Lindsey James, D-Dubuque, offered a “comprehensive solution” to increase availability of child care and help small businesses offer child care benefits.

“Iowa faces a child care crisis in both urban and rural areas,” James said. “While it directly impacts families with small kids, it’s also a drag on the state economy and a huge barrier in recruiting and building a skilled workforce.”

She referred to census data showing that 23 percent of Iowans live in a child care desert, including 5 percent in rural areas, and the average child care cost for a family with two children younger than five ranges from $850 to $1,315 per month.

Among the bills was HF 24224, which addresses the so-called cliff effect. This refers to the point at which a family loses all child care assistance benefits because their income rises above the limit. Lawmakers want to create a tiered “off-ramp” for those families so they don’t have to choose between a promotion or a pay raise that would disqualify them from continuing to receive child care benefits.

HF 2424 establishes a formula for gradually increasing the cost-sharing from families as they increase their income.

The House also passed HF 2270, HF 2271 and HF 2485, which all dealt with child care issues.

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

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