Guest Columnist

The perfect Mother's Day gift: Policy change

Dawn Oliver Wiand, Executive Director at Iowa Women's Foundation and Her Women of Achievement award winner, at Hotel Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Dawn Oliver Wiand, Executive Director at Iowa Women's Foundation and Her Women of Achievement award winner, at Hotel Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the public is inundated with ads and commercials telling us to honor mom with jewelry, flowers or a trip to the spa.

There’s nothing wrong with gift giving, and there’s little doubt your mom will appreciate the thought you put into making her day special.

But if we truly want to start paying respect to Iowa’s mothers, we need more than a card or a once-a-year gift — we need policy change.

Mapping the Needs of Iowa’s Mothers

In the summer of 2015, the Iowa Women’s Foundation embarked on our statewide SHE MATTERS tour to better understand the obstacles to women’s economic self-sufficiency.

During the tour, we talked to community leaders, businesses and passionate individuals to learn which issues were the most pressing.

Among the many barriers we identified, the lack of affordable, accessible, quality child care was an issue that came up time and time again.

We learned that three-quarters of Iowa families with children under the age of six have all available parents working outside of the home — yet almost a quarter of Iowans live in an area undersupplied with licensed or registered child care options.

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We also discovered a shortage of more than 360,000 child care spaces across the state, and that one in two children now go without access to affordable, quality child care. That means parents — often mothers — are unable to obtain employment and stay in the workforce long term.

Furthermore, we learned that over the past five years, Iowa lost 42 percent of its child care businesses, exacerbating an already worsening problem.

Iowa’s workforce shortage and child care crisis are connected

It is no coincidence that Iowa is facing a workforce shortage at the same time it’s facing a child care crisis. As working parents are squeezed out of the workplace due to child care-related constraints, our businesses are left with critical gaps in their workforce — which costs them real dollars in productivity and capacity, as well as the cost of pursuing a shrinking workforce.

Our state is losing big because of an issue we have the power to address.

Taking baby steps

Through our shared work, 22 communities across Iowa are now exploring innovative ways to promote child care investments that support children’s healthy development and a competitive business environment.

Together, we’re working to expand child care benefits businesses offer to employees; support child care entrepreneurs; build new child care centers and expand existing ones; and many other solutions.

But our efforts have only just begun.

How can policy change make a difference?

Many companies’ benefits policies are built on decades old workforce models that appealed to a male-dominated workforce. In order to meet today’s needs, businesses should build in family and female friendly policies for a modern workforce. And they should be incentivized to do so. Getting businesses to increase child care benefits is an important step to increasing the accessibility of child care for working parents.

To start, Iowa can invest in the state work by continuing to increase funding for Early Childhood Iowa and reinstating the Before and After School Grants program to create a state funding stream for high-quality before-school, after-school and summer programs.

Let’s take it further. Support the following tax credits to help Iowa families and businesses succeed:

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Business Tax Credit: Incentivize businesses that provide child care benefits to employees or donate funds to child care centers to support eligible child care expenses, based on the quality rating of the center.

Family Tax Credit: Support families based on their child care expenses, income, federal and state child care tax credits, and the quality rating of the center at 100% deductibility for child care expenses. Provider Tax Credit: Reward centers based on their quality rating and the number of Child Care Assistance Program or foster care children served.

Teacher and Director Tax Credit: Recognize teachers and directors for their professional education and commitment to the field.

Child Care Resource and Referral Tax Credit: Provide a credit for businesses matched to the amount donated to Resources and Referral agencies, up to $5,000.

Working together to make a difference

Iowans are stronger when we work together, and only together can we solve the child care crisis.

So this year, in addition to the box of chocolates you always get for Mom, write a letter to your state legislators encouraging them to support child care initiatives and related tax credits. Show your support for organizations like Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral or the Iowa Women’s Foundation on social media.

And thank a mother you know by helping to make child care in our state more accessible, and more affordable.

There’s no better way to honor mom this Mother’s Day.

• Dawn Oliver Wiand is executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation.

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