DES MOINES, Iowa — The state has a childcare problem and a workforce shortage issue, and it’s something business leaders and politicians are looking to solve.
“The average cost of childcare in Iowa is more than the cost of housing in Iowa. And that is a stat we have to change,” said Emily Schmitt, the Chair of the Governor’s Child Care Task Force said.
Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Joni Ernst were in Des Moines on Thursday hosting a roundtable discussion with state business leaders on what needs to be done to help the childcare industry.
The top issues outlined by the participants were low wages for childcare workers, a lack of available spots, and having businesses invest in their community’s childcare facilities.
“They also need to make sure that they are investing in that childcare provider space,” said Sen. Ernst, (R) from Red Oak. “Only when we have safe, secure childcare options can those employees show up to work every single day. So, it is important that they have a role and an obligation in this area as well.
Ernst has a bipartisan bill she plans on trying to pass next session called ‘Childcare DESERTS Act’. She says it would allow small businesses to apply for different loans and grants to provide childcare services to their employees.
Senator Grassley also had a bipartisan bill introduced this session that has not passed yet. It’s called Childcare and Development Block Grant Reauthorization Act and it would increase eligibility for low-income families applying for childcare payment help.
“This bill would expand options for parents and help make childcare more affordable,” said Senator Grassley, (R) from New Hartford. “It also expands the childcare and development block grant program eligibility to include families making below 150% of state median income.”
These are just a couple of pieces of legislation that the republican senators are working on. Both Grassley and Ernst acknowledged that there is little to be done at a federal level to increase wages for childcare workers; both emphasized that the state government is better suited to tackle that issue.
The state legislature passed a bill last year that changes the ratios of providers to kids that one is able to watch, and it also allowed 16-year-olds to work full time, unsupervised, in childcare facilities. Lawmakers at the Iowa statehouse have yet to take up a bill aimed at improving wages for those workers.