Iowa families are struggling. For too long, Iowa has been marketed as a great place to raise a family, when the reality is that affordable, high-quality child care is hard to find. In Iowa, a quarter of families live in a child care desert, and child care does not even come close to meeting the national definition of affordable.
Because of this crisis, the Iowa economy loses more than $1 billion each year due to a lack of child care.
This year, Iowa lawmakers are working on a slate of bills designed to fill in the gaps on child care. Five bills recently passed the House with bipartisan support. The bills work to establish a grant program to grow the child care workforce, increase reimbursement rates to providers, change the definition of infant and toddler preschool to aid reimbursement rates, establish a phaseout program for families on the state’s child care assistance program and establish conditional exceptions for the number of children allowed in a child care home.
Each of these bills is a calculated effort to solve the child care crisis in the state. And while we are encouraged by the bipartisan efforts to encourage and create affordable child care options for parents, the bills don’t go far enough to fully address the systemic inequity in our system.
Working with employers to ensure six months of paid parental leave is a key first step. Giving both parents time with their children at the early infant stage solves the problem of child care during the 0- to 6-month range and allows parents time to adjust and bond with their children.
Additionally, a 2018 study found that child care workers make less than $15 an hour, and this leads to a lack of qualified workers. Increasing the hourly minimum wage is another small step Iowa lawmakers can take to work to solve the workforce problem.
These five bills are a good start and create a foundation of bipartisan support in solving a crisis, but they are not enough. Until a comprehensive and focused approach is taken, Iowa will continue to be a place where families struggle to make the state a good place to live.
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