Josie Farley, a young mom who works as a para-educator at Sioux City Schools, likely wouldn’t be able to work without child care.
“The amount of daycare, how much it costs for daycare … I would have no money to live after paying daycare [if I didn’t work],” she said.
Her two-year-old son goes to a daycare with a maximum number of 30 children, and Farley had to wait a few months between finding it and being able to send him there when a spot opened. In that window, she wasn’t able to work.
As the worst of the pandemic winds down, getting Iowans back to work has been high on the list of priorities for Iowa leaders. In response, Iowans have said they need child care to make that possible.
The main child care problem in Iowa comes down to money for both parents and providers.
“Child care is a special kind of thing,” said Anne Discher, the executive director of Common Good Iowa, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that focuses on issues like labor and family support.
“It is very expensive for individual families, and yet it doesn’t generate enough money to pay providers a living wage.”
Iowa does have programs to ease that burden with tax credits and the child care assistance program run through the Iowa Department of Human Services. But the assistance, meant for low-income families, has barriers for entry like a certain number of hours the parent works and the amount of money they make.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has also launched a task force to find solutions to the issue.
Families in Need
Farley relies on that assistance for her son’s care.
“If I didn’t have that assistance and I couldn’t find that daycare, there’s no way,” she said of working a normal job. “Like I don’t know what I would be doing. Everything would be about taking care of Gavin. And I wouldn’t be able to take care of Gavin if I didn’t have a job or assistance to pay for the daycare.”
She said she missed re-applying once and had to come up with more than $800 to cover her son’s care — she noted she was lucky the daycare helped her and she didn’t lose her spot.
And the program doesn’t solve the problem of access.
According to recent reporting, more than a quarter of families in Iowa live in a child care desert, areas where the demand is much bigger than the supply.
Discher said that those two factors—lack of access and the cost—lead to parents having to make hard decisions.
“I think that’s why one of our big policy priorities has been around putting additional funds into child care assistance,” she said. “And that’s actually a big chuck of funds that have come through the stimulus bill so far.”
And the Biden administration wants to offer even more help.
The American Rescue Plan, passed in March, had $24 billion for stabilizing child care providers, many of whom have been thrown for a loop by the pandemic. This gives them money for operations and helps keep costs down for families.
The plan also had $15 billion in flexible funding for states to make child care affordable and increase access for families.
The American Families Plan, which is not yet in Congress, includes $225 billion for child care. It includes paid leave for parents and raising the minimum wage for providers to $15 per hour, which would help the field retain and attract employees.
Jesse Persons has had a lot of experience with daycare, having raised four kids with the help of daycare providers. Her youngest daughter is the only one left, and it’s her last year needing it.
“It would be easy for someone, perhaps even in my position to say ‘well, you know we can afford our daycare bill and we have a really great daycare and so it’s not a big deal,’” she said. “But there were years when the big kids were little and daycare was like $115 [each] or like when we lived in Minneapolis and paid two-hundred-whatever a week.”
She’s never had a problem affording child care, but she knows how it piles up on top of expenses like food, clothes, diapers and regular bills.
“I think [Biden’s] ideas are valuable because it’s keeping people in the workforce and off of those programs they would otherwise fall back on,” Persons said.
“I know that he cares about America. He cares about Iowans, and I think especially the middle class, he wants us to be able to provide for ourselves.”
by Nikoel Hytrek