Children’s Square USA hosted a Childcare, Workforce and Legislation luncheon Wednesday to examine the challenges of finding or providing affordable childcare.
“We know that across the state of Iowa there’s a shortage of childcare,” said Viv Ewing, president and CEO of Children’s Square.
The Iowa Women’s Foundation organized the luncheon – its fourth such event in the area, according to Dawn Oliver Wiand, president and CEO.
“We plan to schedule as many of these as we can before the (Iowa Legislature) session starts,” she said. “We identified childcare as the primary barrier to employment for women 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 340,000 childcare slots of having enough for all the young children, she said.
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The problem has been growing, she said. The state has lost 25% of its childcare providers in the past five years and 56% of them in the past 10 years. And Pottawattamie County has lost 30% of its childcare providers in the past five years and 53% in the past 10. Some cities can’t use all of the potential slots they have because the childcare centers are not fully staffed.
Another problem is that childcare is not affordable for all parents, Oliver Wiand said. On average, childcare costs 11% of a two-parent family’s income and 40% of a single-parent family’s income. And it’s not because childcare workers are being paid too much. Their average wage is $10.73 per hour.
“We pay people in this state more to take care of our hamburgers than we do to take care of our children,” she said. “If we don’t have people to take care of our children, we’re not going to be able to go to work, and our businesses are going to suffer.”
Childcare issues are already costing Iowa businesses $935 million a year, Oliver Wiand said.
“Working parents miss 4.3 days of work every six months and leave early or come late 7.5 times every six months,” she said.
Some parents turn down job interviews if the employer does not have childcare benefits, Oliver Wiand said.
“We have a childcare crunch and we have a labor shortage – and these 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 childcare issues. The company’s first shift starts before most childcare centers are open. Employees can be allowed to come in later and leave later, but that doesn’t always sync with training sessions. And absences create a problem.
“When someone is gone, that creates an extra burden for the people that are at work,” she said.
One employee is expecting a baby but can’t get a childcare spot until June. That means either she or her husband will probably have to quit their job, Gubbels said.
“There are a lot of ramifications to not having adequate childcare,” she said.
The labor shortage affects childcare centers, too, said Jonathan Holland, chief programming officer at Children’s Square. The organization’s childcare center has a capacity of 72 children but can only accept 40 because it is short-staffed. In addition, two current staff members are nearing retirement.
“We would love to be able to do more, but we would have to be able to attract people,” he said. “They deserve so much more than what they currently get.”
Council Bluffs Community School District is building an Early Learning Center that will offer both preschool and childcare, but most of the space will be devoted to preschool.
One childcare provider gave parents just one month’s notice that it would be closing. Waiting times at other childcare centers were six, nine, even 10 months, Holland said.
Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy allows its employees to have flexible schedules, but not every employer is willing to do that, said Justin Schultz, regulatory manager at SIRE.
The need for childcare – or at least before- and after-school care — is compounded by school start times that are too late for people who work, Schultz said.
“I think there are a lot of couples that are choosing 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 for childcare. The state has picked up some of its recommendations, she said.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said.
Iowa needs a way to support the childcare industry, Oliver Wiand said, and a sustainable, long-term source of funding. A public-private partnership is needed to increase wages and decrease expenses for childcare providers.
“I have heard from 100 businesses across the state who want to invest in childcare,” she said.
Licensed childcare providers often provide meals, snacks, diapers and other items that children need, Holland said.
Several bills were passed during the Iowa Legislature’s 2022 session at the urging of the Iowa Child Care Coalition that should have a positive effect, Oliver Wiand said, including the following:
• House File 2198 increased minimum staff-child ratios from 1:6 to 1:7 for 2-year-olds and 1:8 to 1:10 for 3-year-olds. It also allows childcare workers who are 16 years old to work without the direct supervision of an adult.
• House File 2127 incentivizes providers to accept more families that receive Child Care Assistance by allowing parents to pay the difference between the Child Care Assistance rates and the rates charged to private-pay families.
• House File 2252 changes Iowa code to allow the Child Care Assistance program to serve a family with a permanently disabled parent so childcare can be covered while the other parent in the household is working or attending education/training. These families were previously ineligible for CCA.
The Iowa Child Care Coalition is asking the Legislature to provide funding to continue several programs funded for 2022 with federal COVID relief grants, Child Care Development Fund dollars and an annual state allocation. Its other legislative recommendations for 2023 include the following:
• Implement tax cuts and credits to incentivize participation in the childcare workforce
• Increase Child Care Assistance reimbursement rate to increase revenue for childcare businesses
• Create a subcategory of commercial property used for childcare centers to treat property tax the same as residentially classed property
• Identify a sustainable public-private funding source to help support the shared services business competencies program long term
• Increase income eligibility for Child Care Assistance to 185% (of the federal poverty level) incredmentally at fifth percentile annually and 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 business incentive matching grants. Previous grant program resulted in 36 applications. Additional communities were interested in applying but unable to meet the timeline.
• Implement tax incentives and credits to incentivize businesses to increase investments in childcare, resulting in an increase in quality childcare across the state.