The state of Iowa will lose an opportunity to receive $3o million in federal funding for child care because Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office didn’t want to commit $3 million in matching state funds despite Iowa having a $1.91 billion surplus.
State Sen. Claire Celsi (D-Des Moines) said she talked to people at the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and learned the loss was because the state did not review or submit the necessary paperwork on time.
Whatever the reason, Iowans across social media have not taken the news well.
Many have questioned whether Reynolds cares about Iowa parents and children.
1. IA GOP believes in small (i.e., ineffective) government.
2. IA GOP believes helping people "not like them" is a sin.
3. IA GOP believes changing (1) and (2) will raise taxes on their wealthy donors.
— Harrison Pratt (@hwprattii) November 6, 2022
Others have wondered what the point of Iowa’s $1.9 billion budget surplus is if the state is unwilling to spend $3 million for $30 million that would be distributed over three years.
Reynolds and other Iowa Republicans have touted the surplus and called it a sign of fiscal responsibility.
Apparently basic priorities of rural communities are not aligned with the governor’s vision of Iowa. Beyond the slick ads, what are her priorities?
— Charles Williams (@Charles17223341) November 11, 2022
Iowa has had a childcare crisis for a long time. For the most part, a lot of the issue is having enough people willing to go into the industry. That has led to increasingly fewer spots at childcare centers and more parents staying home instead of entering the workplace.
The Governor’s Child Care Task Force report from 2021 shows about one in four Iowans live in a childcare desert, and for rural Iowans, the number is one in three. That means those areas have fewer licensed providers than they need.
Child care in Iowa is also expensive, and Iowa has programs in place for low-income families who need help. The same 2021 report said the average monthly cost of child care in Iowa is $1,031.
On Facebook and Twitter, Common Good Iowa, a nonprofit research and advocacy group focusing on issues like labor and family support, said the $30 million could have expanded preschool to more children or made more hours available in a week. The group also suggested it could expand child care and better reach parents.
Rep. Tracy Ehlert (D-Cedar Rapids), who works as an early childhood educator, said it’s unfortunate state employees spent weeks on the application only to find out it wouldn’t be submitted.
“One of the reasons given was we already have funds on hand to use. If we already have funds on hand to address areas this grant would allow us fund, I’m not sure why I’m not seeing that,” she said. “Right now what I’m seeing the most of when it relates to childcare funding is millions of dollars being given out to create new child care centers when we cannot even staff the ones that already exist.”
Iowa Capitol Dispatch reported that Kelly Garcia, who oversees Iowa HHS, has committed to using American Rescue Plan money for the childcare efforts the grant would have covered.
“I asked Kelly Garcia, ‘Why didn’t you monitor the progress of this grant application, why didn’t you assign staff to it?’” Celsi told Iowa Capitol Dispatch. “And she admitted that they’re overstretched — and I think there is no doubt about that. They are trying to do too many things all at once.”
Earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Iowa Department of Health were merged to “be more effective.”
Ehlert said she already knows there won’t be an excess of funds in the current HHS (which was still DHS at the time) budget because they didn’t ask for a budget increase in this year’s legislative session.
“I am curious to hear what the plan is going forward to use these existing funds we have,” she said. “Families could use more support, early ed professionals could use more support and Iowa’s children would benefit from supporting both.”
CORRECTION: Clarified that Iowa’s Department of Human Services didn’t ask for an increase in funding this year
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