Childcare is a cross-cutting, complex issue. It affects education, childhood
development and workforce issues - if you can’t get or can’t afford childcare, you
can’t work – and childcare providers are having a difficult time attracting workers
because their margins are thin and they cannot afford to raise wages. It is a local
issue, a state issue and a federal issue. As is the case with so many issues, the
pandemic has shone a spotlight on childcare – the need for it, that it is a societal
good, a quality of life issue, a quality of education issue and that quality,
affordable childcare is a necessity – not a luxury.
There are some short-term stop gaps to keep childcare providers afloat (dollars
from federal grant programs which the state has or is in the process of
implementing – CARES Act and ARPA, both of which passed without support from
Iowa Republicans). And then there are long-term fixes. The governor convened a
childcare task force which issued a report in November 2021. It contains some
workable ideas, such as shared services and taking a hard look at regulations, but
it does not address the elephant in the room: wages and benefits. If we are going
to attract people into the profession, providers need to be paid a decent wage
and receive benefits. If we want parents – women in particular – to re-enter the
workforce, childcare is a core issue.
Use existing resources and expertise – it exists (Iowa Women’s Foundation,
4 Cs, local childcare coalitions), both statewide and local.
Listen to providers – they know where their pressure points are and what
helps them recruit and retain staff.
Explore public-private partnerships – there are buildings sitting empty and
public ARPA dollars that can be put to work. The state has grants for
expansion but a childcare space is only an actual spot that can be filled if
there are staff.
Don’t sacrifice child safety (a provider can only safely be responsible for a
limited number of children).
Work with large employers and school districts to explore whether they in
turn can work with providers to be the hiring arm (with access to benefits
because of their size).
The solution is not to ask those who need Childcare Assistance to pay a co-
pay – they are eligible for assistance because they earn too little to afford
childcare. And if we do opt (as the legislature is considering) for a possible
co-pay, we need to create funds to help parents pay those co-pays. Again,
this is not a solution – it is a stop-gap and a way to avoid having to address
the wage and benefits issue head-on.
Let’s be honest – high income earners can afford childcare – or help at
home; we need to focus especially on those who cannot.
There are some educational incentives at the state and local levels, but that
needs to translate into salary and benefits.
Look to local solutions such as Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) for a
combination of universal pre-K and wrap-around care so all can take
advantage and start K-12 on even footing.
Consider the model the U.S. military uses – parents pay max 7% of their
income and the military covers the remainder needed to attract qualified