Guest Columnist

Ehlert: Iowa can't afford to lose more child care providers

Tracy Ehlert is a Democratic candidate in Iowa House District 70.

According to data from Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R), Cedar Rapids has 19,865 children ages 0 to 11. This is the typical age group you will find in early care and education programs such as child care. CCR&R reports that for those 19,865 Cedar Rapids children, there are only 10,001 regulated slots available among known programs including licensed, registered, Department of Education and non-registered. Cedar Rapids is among the 481 cities in Iowa that have a lack of child care, and this was before COVID-19 and the recent derecho.

With Iowa having 75 percent of all available parents in the household in the workforce (ranking as one of the highest) and so many more school age children needing care right now due to being out of school for virtual learning, child care is a very vital piece of infrastructure for Iowa, but it is not always treated as such. Lack of child care has serious economic impacts and with COVID and the derecho putting more of a strain of area programs we continue to see more programs closing their doors. Programs and providers need help.

Since COVID, our area programs have been running with ever changing enrollment numbers due to parent layoffs, parents working from home, families not being able to bring children to due COVID health risks and shut downs due to quarantines for COVID exposures. The first few months of COVID, many programs were at only 10 percent of their normal capacity meaning the income they were bringing in was not always sufficient to retain staff and pay for the increasing costs in food and cleaning supplies (which they are now using more of than ever) and PPE like gloves, which infant/toddler programs use on a daily basis.

Then the derecho happened, and programs that were already suffering from the effects of COVID have now had to shut down again for cleanup and repairs. Some lost outdoor play equipment, some, like the before and after school child care program at Grant Elementary, lost everything. Programs are tapped out. Staff is stressed, expenses are up, income is down for many for the year, all new protocols have had to be put in place some adding additional costs or using more staff members to achieve, and balancing the cleaning with child interactions is a struggle for some.

The state came in with resources a couple months after COVID started when Iowa received funding from the CARES Act, but that funding is out and was not adequate to begin with. These programs need more so they can continue to remain open the remainder of this year and for years to come. This upcoming legislative session is a time to take a serious look at how to address some of these concerns, but it is also time for the community to get more involved and look at how public-private partnerships can help. We cannot afford to lose one more program.

Tracy Ehlert is a Democratic candidate in Iowa House District 70.

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