Quality childcare is a critical component for the success of Iowa families, businesses and our overall economy but today the state is failing to meet the challenge. We must make a greater commitment in supporting and expanding quality childcare because it is an investment in our future that will pay us back many times over.
Of course, this is just one part of an overall challenge we face as income inequality grows and some communities are overlooked when it comes to new state-level investments. According to the United Way’s statewide “ALICE Report,” more than 30% of Iowa households who work, earn and pay taxes are unable to meet basic needs. Breaking the cycle of poverty for hundreds of thousands of Iowans must be a priority for our state and I believe childcare is a key component.
So much of success in adulthood is predicated on how a child develops and the skills they learn early in life. The foundation of an individual’s intellectual, emotional, and social development is in many ways shaped before the age of five. With so much at stake for families and the state as a whole, we should empower parents and provide them with the resources, programs, and assistance they need to ensure their children succeed and thrive throughout their lives.
It’s also important to point out that childcare and early childhood education impacts all Iowans and the health of our economy. The lack of affordable childcare contributes to our serious workforce shortage. Parents struggle to enter or remain in the workforce when they routinely experience difficulty in identifying local childcare and early childhood education programs. The lack of affordable childcare also leaves a gap in the skills development for our children and their future economic success. If we are not able to sustain a highly educated, highly trained community of workers, Iowa will be far less competitive long-term and our economy will suffer as a result as businesses choose to locate elsewhere. This is one of the most pressing challenges facing our state and one we can’t avoid any longer.
Here is where we start.
Expanding Access to High-Quality, Affordable Childcare:
Today, the state of Iowa provides support for low-income and working families to cover part of the costs associated with childcare. This support structure gives parents the ability to work and the peace of mind knowing their child is cared for during the day. However, many parents encounter a “cliff effect” that puts this equation at risk. When a single parent’s wages reach $11.15 per hour, they no longer qualify for any childcare assistance at all.
These hard working parents face increased challenges in sending their son or daughter to a high-quality childcare service and a greater likelihood they will be stuck in a cycle of poverty without any meaningful way of breaking out. It’s simply not fair that so many Iowans continue to fall further and further behind no matter how hard they work. As governor, I will eliminate the cliff effect by increasing the annual income limit where individuals can receive benefits. Additionally, I will create a stair step approach to ensure those with the greatest need receive the greatest level of support.
The lack of high-quality, affordable childcare impacts virtually every community, but rural Iowa is particularly susceptible to this challenge. As a result, it is also critical for the state, counties, and cities to work with businesses to establish public-private partnerships that can invest together to expand childcare options at the local level. These partnerships can help identify and address gaps where they exist. For example, some communities may have particular needs for additional childcare options during certain times of the day, over the weekend, or the evening. By giving local communities more opportunities and resources to assess those needs, we can create greater flexibility and productivity in the workplace. The result is good for families and businesses alike. Utilizing an approach similar to the Vision Iowa program, the state can leverage grants, loans, forgivable loans, and loan guarantees to spur investments by local governments, businesses and non-profit organizations to close gaps in childcare services.
Supporting Iowa families and growing our economy through early learning
Study after study indicates that early childhood education is the most important factor when it comes to the successful development of a young person and a community’s long-term economic success. With so much at stake for families and the state as a whole, our goal should be to expand opportunities for our children to succeed by ensuring they are prepared when they enter our K-12 schools and for parents to realize the dignity of being able to work and support their family.
As governor, I will reinstitute and expand Iowa’s universal preschool initiative that benefitted thousands upon thousands of early learners, but was cut when Governor Branstad came back into office in 2011. This initiative helps provide three and four year olds with the skills necessary to achieve at a high level and helps improve Iowa’s economic outlook by building a stronger workforce over the long-term. Cutting this program was shortsighted, unnecessary, and limited access to critical early learning programs for families across the state. We can do better.
Ensuring all Iowa children have health insurance:
At the end of last year, President Trump and Congressional Republicans very clearly revealed their priorities to the American people. Their tax reform bill provided billions in handouts to the wealthiest Americans and the wealthiest corporations. However, at the same time, they failed to address the looming crisis of nine million American children losing the health insurance they currently receive through the Children’s Health Insurance Program. If we can’t count on Congress and the White House to take the most basic steps to protect our most vulnerable populations, then the state of Iowa needs to step up. As governor, I will provide state dollars to ensure the 42,000 Iowa children who are enrolled in this program continue to have high-quality coverage and access to Iowa’s exceptional network of medical providers. I refuse to stand on the sidelines and watch as Republicans in Washington DC endanger Iowa children and produce terrible health outcomes across all our communities.