Iowa households who get little one care help may chip in funds underneath invoice


Child care in Iowa has become hard to find and costs are soaring

The Des Moines Register will spend 2022 examining Iowa’s child care crisis and finding potential solutions for parents and caregivers.

Kim Norvell/Des Moines Register, Des Moines Register

Families receiving state child care aid could choose to make additional, private payments to their providers to make up for the lower rate paid by the state, under a bill headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk.

Republicans say the bill would make the program more flexible by letting families negotiate rates with child care providers who otherwise choose not to accept families who participate in the program due to the lower rate providers receive from the state.

But Democrats say many parents on child care assistance can’t afford to pay extra for care, and the state should instead increase its investments in child care to help bridge the gap.

The Senate approved the bill, House File 2127, on a 29-16 party-line vote Monday. The House passed it in early March.

The measure will join another child care bill headed to Reynolds’ desk, House File 2198, which would allow 16-year-olds to work in child care centers without supervision and adult staff members to care for more young children of certain ages than currently allowed .

Those proposals are part of Republicans’ efforts this year to loosen some regulations on child care providers as families in the state face issues with child care accessibility and affordability.

More: As Iowa faces a child care shortage, Republicans think looser regulation is part of the solution

Republicans have noted the proposals were recommended by Reynolds’ Child Care Task Force in a report it issued in November. Among the recommendations was introducing more flexibility into the Child Care Assistance program. The report said that not allowing parents to pay the difference can be a “disincentive” for providers to participate in the state program.

Iowa’s Child Care Assistance program funds child care services for families who

make under 145% of the federal poverty level, or about $33,000 for a family of three. It is available to families who are absent for all or part of the day due to a job, academic training or other qualified activities.

Through the program, child care providers are reimbursed at a rate that is between the 50th and 75th percentile of a survey of child care market rates, with their rate based on a variety of factors.

Last budget year, more than 31,000 children received services through the state program, according to the governor’s task force report.

Under the bill, child care providers could reach agreements with parents of children participating in the program to make up the difference of what the provider would receive from parents paying privately. The agreements for additional payments must be in writing before care is provided.

“It allows families to work with child care providers and negotiate rates, and to use child care providers that might not normally have accepted Child Care Assistance families,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine.


Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds tours childcare facility

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recently visited the Little Hawks Childcare Center in Manilla, touring the facility and reading to a classroom.

Bryon Houlgrave, Des Moines Register

What other efforts are being made to make child care more available?

Lofgren pointed to other Republican efforts on child care over the past year, including legislation passed last year to fix the so-called cliff effect by gradually easing families off of Child Care Assistance, rather than cutting benefits all at once when a family’s income exceeds the 145% threshold, such as after a promotion or small raise.

Reynolds has also spent nearly $500 million, much of it in federal COVID-19 relief money, to support child care availability through a series of initiatives that include monthly grants, a grant program for child care providers and additional funding for existing state programs that support child care centers and workers.

Several Democrats spoke against the bill, saying it does not provide an adequate solution to help families who can’t afford to pay.

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines, said many families using the program make far less than the maximum to receive benefits. She said the state should invest more into child care, not put the burden on families.

“These are working parents who don’t have an extra dollar — let alone an extra $100 a week per child — to make up the difference,” she said. “These are folks who are going to be choosing between child care and buying food for their families, in a time when the prices of everything are going up.”

Some Democrats have suggested raising the threshold for eligibility in the state assistance program, as well as increasing the reimbursement that facilities receive.

The other child care bill awaiting the governor’s signature would raise the maximum child-to-staff ratios at child care centers for 2- and 3-year-olds. If Reynolds approves it, as expected, one worker at a child care center could supervise seven 2-year-olds, up from six, and one worker could supervise 10 3-year-olds, up from eight.

The bill also would allow child care centers to hire 16- and 17-year-olds to work or substitute in their facilities without adult supervision, as long as they’re caring for school-age children. Currently, employees have to be at least 18 years old to work unsupervised.

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Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected], at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.

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