The Iowa House approved five bills Monday aimed at addressing what business leaders and public officials have called a child care crisis in the state.

Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said when women in her town get pregnant, the first call is to child-care providers to get on the lengthy waiting list. The second call is to the father-to-be. “Iowa faces a child care crisis in both urban and rural areas,” James said.

Democrats supported the bills but argued lawmakers could do much more to address child care accessibility issues in Iowa.

Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, noted that Iowa leads the nation in the percentage of parents in the workforce with children under age 6, and the state has at least 360,000 more children in need of child care than there is capacity. “This is a skeleton of what we might be able to do. There’s nothing wrong with the skeleton but we need to do so much more,” she said of House File 2600, which creates a state matching grant program for child care but includes no money.

Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said he appreciated comments emphasizing the need for better accessibility of child care, which is why lawmakers were considering several bills on the topic. “The majority party certainly recognized the great need out there,” he said.

Two other bills address reimbursement rates for providers under the state child care assistance program. One would gradually reduce public assistance for parents who receive raises or promotions that push them past the current income limit on eligibility for child care assistance. And one would give child care centers some flexibility in staffing ratios for school-age children on days when school starts early or late or is canceled due to weather.

Here is a brief summary of the bills approved Monday:

House File 2600: Creates a state matching grant program allowing communities to access state grant money if they provide money for the child care WAGE$ Iowa program or other child care workforce strategies. The bill passed 98-1.

House File 2270: Raises the state reimbursement rate under the state child care assistance program. All child care providers would be brought up to the 50th percentile of the market rate survey completed in December 2017. The bill would cost an estimated $7.2 million, according to non-partisan legislative fiscal analysts. The bill passed 98-1.

House File 2271: Includes 3-year-olds under the definition of “infant and toddler” for the purpose of reimbursing child care providers under the state child care assistance program. The change would mean providers would receive a higher reimbursement rate. The bill passed 99-1.

House File 2424: Creates a graduated eligibility phase-out program for state child care assistance. The bill would phase out child care assistance gradually as the parents’ income increases, eliminating the so-called “cliff effect” that penalizes parents whose raise or promotion abruptly ends assistance eligibility. The bill passed 99-0.

House File 2485: Creates an exception to the child-to-staff ratio requirements at child development homes for school-aged children when school starts late or ends early or is canceled due to structural damage or inclement weather. The bill passed 98-1.

Two child care bills are eligible for House debate but were not considered Monday:

House File 2593: Allows businesses that create or expand child care programs to access tax incentives through the state’s high quality jobs program.

House File 2594: Businesses could access tax credits up to $150,000 to pay for 25 percent of the cost of providing child care to employees.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. For more stories visit them at iowacapitaldispatch.com.

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