Children’s Square Hosts Lunch to Explore Affordable Childcare

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Children’s Square USA hosted a Child Care, Workforce and Legislation luncheon on Wednesday to examine the challenges of finding or providing affordable child care.

“We know that across the state of Iowa there is a shortage of child care centers,” said Viv Ewing, president and CEO of Children’s Square.

The Iowa Women’s Foundation hosted the luncheon — its fourth such event in the region, according to Dawn Oliver Wiand, president and CEO.

“We plan to schedule as many as possible before the start of the (Iowa Legislature) session,” she said. “We have identified child care as the number one barrier to women’s employment in our state.”

Iowa has the most families with young children and both parents working of any state, Oliver Wiand said. The state is short of 340,000 child care spaces to have enough for all young children, she said.

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The problem got worse, she said. The state has lost 25% of its child care providers in the past five years and 56% of them in the past 10 years. And Pottawattamie County has lost 30% of its child care providers over the past five years and 53% over the past 10 years. Some cities cannot use all the potential slots they have because daycares are not full.

Another problem is that childcare is not affordable for all parents, said Oliver Wiand. On average, child care costs 11% of the income of a two-parent family and 40% of the income of a single-parent family. And it’s not because educators are overpaid. Their average salary is $10.73 per hour.

“We pay the people of this state more to take care of our burgers than to take care of our children,” she said. “If we don’t have people to take care of our children, we won’t be able to go to work and our businesses will suffer.”

Child care issues already cost Iowa businesses $935 million a year, Oliver Wiand said.

“Working parents miss 4.3 days of work every six months and leave early or arrive late 7.5 times every six months,” she said.

Some parents refuse job interviews if the employer does not have childcare benefits, Oliver Wiand said.

“We have a childcare problem and we have a labor shortage – and those are interrelated,” she said.

PowerTech has about 120 employees, and most of them are men, said Shannon Gubbels, chief operating officer. But that doesn’t eliminate child care issues. The company’s first shift begins before most child care centers are open. Employees may be allowed to come in later and leave later, but this doesn’t always sync with training sessions. And absences create a problem.

“When someone is gone, it creates an extra burden for people who are at work,” she said.

An employee is expecting a baby but cannot get a child care space until June. That means she or her husband will likely have to quit their jobs, Gubbels said.

“There are a lot of ramifications of not having adequate child care,” she said.

The labor shortage is also affecting child care centers, said Jonathan Holland, director of programming at Children’s Square. The organization’s daycare has a capacity of 72 children but can only accommodate 40 because it is understaffed. In addition, two current staff members are approaching retirement.

“We wish we could do more, but we should be able to attract people,” he said. “They deserve so much more than what they’re getting right now.”

The Council Bluffs Community School District is building an early learning center that will offer both early education and childcare, but most of the space will be dedicated to education preschool.

A child care provider gave parents just one month’s notice before the closure. Wait times at other daycares were six, nine, even 10 months, Holland said.

Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy allows its employees to have flexible hours, but not all employers are willing to do so, said Justin Schultz, chief regulatory officer at SIRE.

The need for child care — or at least before and after school care — is compounded by school start times that are too late for working people, Schultz said.

“I think there are a lot of couples who choose not to have children at all,” he said.

“It’s going to take multiple solutions in multiple ways to make things work,” said Oliver Wiand, who served on a governor’s task force on child care. The state has taken up some of her recommendations, she said.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said.

Iowa needs a way to support the child care industry, Oliver Wiand said, and a long-term, sustainable source of funding. A public-private partnership is needed to increase wages and reduce expenses for child care providers.

“I’ve heard of 100 companies across the state that want to invest in child care,” she said.

Licensed child care providers often provide meals, snacks, diapers and other items children need, Holland said.

Several bills were passed in the 2022 session of the Iowa Legislature at the request of the Iowa Child Care Coalition that should have a positive effect, Oliver Wiand said, including the following:

• House File 2198 increased the minimum staff-to-child ratio from 1:6 to 1:7 for 2-year-olds and from 1:8 to 1:10 for 3-year-olds. It also allows 16-year-old daycare workers to work without direct adult supervision.

• House File 2127 encourages providers to accept more families receiving child care assistance by allowing parents to pay the difference between child care assistance rates and rates charged to pay families private.

• House File 2252 changes Iowa code to allow the child care assistance program to serve a family with one permanently disabled parent so that child care can be covered while the other parent of the household works or is in education/training. These families were previously not eligible for ACC.

The Iowa Child Care Coalition is asking the Legislature to provide funding to continue multiple programs funded for 2022 with federal COVID relief grants, Child Care Development Fund dollars, and an annual stipend from the State. Its other legislative recommendations for 2023 include the following:

• Implement tax cuts and credits to encourage participation in the childcare workforce

• Increase child care assistance reimbursement rate to increase revenue for child care businesses

• Create a subclass of commercial properties used for child care to treat property tax the same as residential properties

• Identify a source of sustainable public-private funding to help sustain the shared services business skills program over the long term

• Increase income eligibility for child care assistance to 185% (of federal poverty level) incrementally at the fifth percentile each year and at the 75th percentile of the market rate survey. Iowa’s income limit is currently 145% of the federal poverty level. In comparison, Iowa is ranked 46th of all states.

• Identify long-term funding to support additional incentive matching grants for businesses. The previous grant program resulted in 36 applications. Other communities were interested in applying but could not meet the deadline.

• Implement tax incentives and credits to encourage businesses to increase their investment in child care, which will result in an increase in the quality of child care services statewide.

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