Throughout this pandemic I’ve continued to listen to and hear from Iowans in all corners of our state. During telephone town halls, virtual town halls, conference calls, Facebook live events, and so much more, I’ve continued to hear directly from Iowans and have been able to bring their fight and voices to Washington.
Following safety guidelines, I’ve been back out and about on my 99-county tour. Years ago my mentor and colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley set the standard: every county, every year. COVID-19 has certainly made it more challenging and we have had to be more creative, but I’m glad I’ve been able to get back to meeting with Iowans, even if we’re a little further apart and masked-up. This is the kind of accessibility that Iowans demand, and I believe that direct input from folks across the state is key to my job as your senator.
One overwhelming theme I’ve heard from folks is about the importance of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). As you know, in Iowa, 99 percent of our businesses are small businesses, so this program has been a key lifeline for our workers and employers. To date, Iowa businesses have received over 58,000 loans worth more than $5 billion. And with funds still left after we bolstered the program, I’m working to allow Iowa’s hardest hit businesses to receive a second PPP loan and to secure access for those who haven’t been able to access relief yet — like our local chambers of commerce and news outlets.
Recently I was in Plymouth County where I visited Browns Century Theater. This is a well-known treasure in the heart of Le Mars. Because of the PPP, the Brown family has been able to keep their workers paid and their business afloat. And that’s also true for the Iowans I met with in O’Brien County during a main street tour in Sheldon. At nearly every stop, local employers explained just how vital this new program has been for their workers and small businesses.
As the Senate considers another relief package, we need to find ways to make sure local employers have the financial stability necessary to remain open and viable. Iowa’s mom and pop shops are vital to the continued growth of our state and economy.
Another key issue is the need for additional support of our child care providers and the families that rely on these essential workers.
Just a couple weeks ago I joined a virtual town hall with some child care providers in northeast Iowa and discussed their concerns surrounding the uncertainty of the upcoming school year and the growing concerns associated with safely caring for our kiddos. It’s because of conversations like this that I’ve long been fighting to support Iowa’s child care providers and to increase access to affordable, quality child care for our families.
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One of the ways we can help alleviate some of the financial hardships these providers face is by making sure they get more support in the next COVID-19 package. In the bipartisan Phase 2 package, we provided emergency paid sick leave for workers during COVID-19 and additional emergency family and medical leave for individuals who need to care for a child at home due to school or child care closures. Then, through the CARES Act, I worked across the aisle to help secure nearly $32 million in aid for Iowa’s child care community, and to help cover some of the costs of care. But with the unpredictability of this virus and its impact on work and school, it’s critical we provide additional support for these essential facilities and their employees.
Right now, I’m working with my colleague from Tennessee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, on a new proposal — as part of my substantial COVID child care relief efforts — called the Back to Work Child Care Grants Act of 2020. This will help support Iowa families getting back on their feet and parents going back to work by providing critical resources to help child care providers reopen and make it through this crisis. Families have to be able to put food on the table.
This bill includes nine months of assistance for providers to stabilize the child care industry, allows states to design their own systems for their child care sectors, and gets funds to child care providers as quickly as possible without administrative red-tape. It also requires all providers receiving assistance to follow state and local health and safety guidelines and helps them acquire PPE and other equipment and supplies necessary to comply with safety measures — ensuring our children are cared for in a safe environment.
Whether it’s more assistance for families or providing additional aid for child care programs, we must prioritize these front line workers and our moms and dads. Iowa families depend on the survival of our child care providers.
Joni Ernst is a Republican representing Iowa in the U.S. Senate.