Child care access, quality a key issue for 2020 Iowa legislature
DES MOINES — The 2020 Iowa Legislature convenes this morning, with lawmakers from both political parties pledging action to ease the child care concerns of Iowa parents.
Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signaled this past summer she’s exploring a number of options, like tax credits for businesses that provide on-site child care to workers or state grants to help establish new child care centers.
There’s also been discussion among Republicans and Democrats about state child care assistance for low-income Iowans. The idea? Implement a gradually diminishing level of child care support as workers get raises, work more hours or take a better job. Senate President Charles Schneider, a Republican from West Des Moines, says current policy creates a child care cliff.
“Right now, if you’re at 144% of the federal poverty level you get child care benefits and if you’re at 145%, they’re completely cut off,” Schneider says, “and that does not incent anyone to work harder or take a promotion.”
Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, says legislators tried in 2015 to begin addressing this issue, but then-Governor Terry Branstad vetoed the additional money.
“I’m hopeful with Governor Reynolds calling attention to this issue that we may be able to make some progress on child care,” Petersen says.
Schneider is expressing optimism about action, although he cautions it may take a few years to find all the money needed to boost child care assistance.
“I’d like to find a way for all of us to come together to get something done,” Schneider says.
Republican House Speaker-select Pat Grassley of New Hartford says helping all Iowa parents find affordable, quality child care fits with another goal of increasing the number of Iowans in the workforce.
“I think there’s some opportunities to work on some important issues to Iowans together,” Grassley says.
Grassley indicates legislators are discussing how to address the shortage of child care workers.
“Not only get into the field, but receive the proper education that they need and training that they need to do that,” Grassley says.
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, a Democrat from Charles City, says communities need help in establishing new child care centers.
“A lot of communities like Charles City and around the state have infrastructure issues,” Prichard says. “They need to find a suitable facility that works to have a child care in it, so then in my mind we’re talking about grant programs, we’re talking about kind of capital improvement type programs.”
Senator Petersen says legislators need to provide more money for state oversight of child care operations, to address safety concerns.
“We do a better job of inspecting restaurants in our state than we do in inspecting child care facilities,” Petersen says, “and we need to take a strong look at that to see what we can do to better protect Iowa’s children.”
The legislative leaders made their comments during a forum organized by The Associated Press.