Gov. Kim Reynolds announces initiatives to address child care shortage

Johnson County Board of Supervisors have voted to raise wages for eligible child care workers. CREDIT PEXELS
Johnson County Board of Supervisors have voted to raise wages for eligible child care workers. CREDIT PEXELS

In response to the growing child care crisis hitting the state, and with Iowa leading the nation in the share of households where both parents work, Gov. Kim Reynolds is implementing a series of initiatives to address Iowa’s child care shortage.

“We know that the key to economic growth is a highly skilled and qualified workforce,” said Ms. Reynolds in a press release. “A child care shortage that prevents parents from entering or remaining in the workforce hinders our ability to meet this challenge.”

Starting immediately, an additional $10 million in funding for the Child Care Challenge Grant Program will be made available by Iowa Workforce Development and the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). The goal is to support the expansion of existing child care facilities or construction of new centers, ultimately increasing the number of child care slots available for Iowa families.

In 2022, the state plans on creating a child care management system. This web-based platform will help providers leverage a shared services model for business operations like group purchasing and professional development. A creation of a “Best Place for Working Parents” designation will begin the same year and will recognize top employers that help children in the state.

The Iowa DHS is also providing up to $200 million in federal funding to help eligible child care providers who can verify financial loss due to the pandemic, an act that will hope to stabilize businesses that help Iowa’s families.

An additional $100,000 from the Iowa Department of Education will be made available for grants that will advance planning efforts for blended child care and preschool learning opportunities.

The actions are based upon a set of recommendations from the Governor’s Child Care Task Force that was established in March.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than $137 million in state and federal funding has been allocated to support child care across the state. But with 23% of Iowans, including 35% of rural Iowans, living in areas lacking adequate child care supply, more relief could be coming via executive action and legislative priorities.

“We’re not finished yet, this is only the beginning,” said Ms. Reynolds. “These new initiatives are going to support our working families and ensure Iowa has the child care system needed to unleash our state’s incredible workforce and set our economy on a path to long-term, broad-based prosperity.”

Annually, the child care shortage costs the Iowa economy approximately $935 million.

Workforce retention continues to be one of the greatest challenges child care centers face. Miranda Niemi, business owner of Quality Beginnings and director of Collins Aerospace Day Academy, says she has lost 17 staff members to date.

“I’ve talked to other directors across Iowa, and even nationwide, and we’re all just exhausted,” she said. “The stress levels are very high. And we’re at that point where we just don’t know what else to do. We feel kind of stuck, so unfortunately, more and more centers are contemplating closing their doors, which of course will not help the child care crisis. I’m really concerned about the workforce and how we’re supposed to find qualified people to take care of our children, and I’m not sure what the solution is.”