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Child care bills moving through Iowa Legislature upset advocates

Posted at 6:46 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 19:46:05-05

DES MOINES, Iowa (KMTV) — There are a couple of bills moving through the Iowa Legislature that are addressing the lack of child care options, which is upsetting some advocates.

One bill passed the Senate this week which increases the child-to-staff ratio. It lets one childcare worker take care of seven toddlers instead of six. Another bill moving through the Iowa Legislature allows 16-year-olds to watch school-aged kids without additional supervision in a child care center.

"Providers are hurting. They need pay increases. This really doesn't do anything here, especially if you add a 16-year-old to the mix," Common Good Iowa's Government Relations Manager Sheila Hansen said.

Hansen is upset, calling this legislation "band-aids" to a critical issue.

"We were told to dream about what we really wanted for the child care workforce, and it was paid vacation, it was increased pay, it was 'how could we get them health insurance, how can we make sure they are sustained, how can we get them more access to quality training and education?' Never once did we really say 'increase the child care ratio,' " Hansen said.

"The childcare system has been fragile for a very long time and it took the pandemic for it to become more aware of general public and businesses and legislators," Thriving Families Alliance Executive Director Patricia Russmann said.

Thriving Families Alliance is an organization that supports kids and families. Russman says the root of the issue revolves around giving adequate wages, benefits and training to the workforce, while the reality is that some are currently making poverty-level wages.

"They found out they could now go to a McDonald's and local gas station and make more money. We shouldn't be competing with the gas station or McDonald's for childcare professionals," Russmann said.

Republican state Rep. Brent Siegrist supports increasing the child care ratio, saying it's one way to answer the shortages, especially in rural parts of the state.

"In our rural areas of the state, it's extremely hard to find childcare. In some of those cases, being able to add another child to a child care provider will help working parents," Siegrist said.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls has other ideas in mind for the crisis.

"Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would expand eligibility for child care assistance significantly and help more middle-class families qualify for that program," Wahls said.

Wahls believes Senate Republicans have a different set of priorities.

"They're trying to be able to say they've done something and move on to what they really want to do, which is give the ultra-wealthy a huge tax cut," Wahls said.

"I've been doing this for a long time, I think we have lots of work to do," Hansen said.

In Council Bluffs, there's a subcommittee looking at getting data on how the childcare shortage is impacting businesses and economic development. They will launch a survey with business leaders at the beginning of April.

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