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Reynolds says Iowa will give more federal funding to child care centers

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced new child care programs Wednesday at Sprouts Early Learning Academy in Carlisle.
Katarina Sostaric
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced new child care programs Wednesday at Sprouts Early Learning Academy in Carlisle.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday she plans to give up to $200 million of federal pandemic relief funding to Iowa child care centers that lost money because of the pandemic.

The applications for the new child care center pandemic relief program aren’t open yet. But Reynolds said that is just one of several steps she’ll take in the coming months aimed at improving child care access and quality based on the new recommendations from her Child Care Task Force.

“Iowa’s businesses are desperate for workers, and a child care shortage that prevents parents from entering or remaining in the workforce hinders our ability to meet this challenge,” Reynolds said at a news conference.

She said 23 percent of Iowans live in a child care desert, and the child care shortage costs the state’s economy $935 million each year.

Reynolds said a new web-based child care management system will be available in 2022 to help child care providers to share some business services.

She said a “Best Place for Working Parents” designation will begin in January 2022 and is intended to encourage businesses to invest in child care services for their employees.

The state is making an additional $10 million available for a grant program that’s aimed at expanding existing child care facilities and constructing new ones. And $100,000 in grants will go to efforts to plan blended child care and preschool learning services.

Reynolds said the state put more than $137 million of state and federal funding into child care since the coronavirus pandemic started.

Reynolds was asked if her executive actions and legislative proposals will result in child care workers getting paid more.

“That’s just something that we’ll continue to look at,” Reynolds said. “It’s something that you have to balance not only helping support those that are entering into the industry, but also we have to look for ways to make it affordable for parents. And so that’s always been the balance that we’ve had to walk.”

Reynolds said solutions won’t just come from the government, and that businesses should help their employees with child care, too, as a way to attract workers.

Paige Smothers, the owner of Sprouts Early Learning Academy in Carlisle, spoke during Reynolds’ news conference. She said child care center construction costs were triple what she expected because of the pandemic, and she applied for a separate state grant.

“And we just found out a few weeks ago that we were grant recipients,” Smothers said. “The amount of funding that we are now able to put towards our inflated construction costs has literally life-changing effects on our family.”

Reynolds said she plans to explore more executive action and legislative proposals related to child care.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, thanked Democratic President Joe Biden and 3rd District Congresswoman Cindy Axne for making most of this new child care funding available through the American Rescue Plan.

"[Reynolds] criticized that plan," Wahls said. "And she should apologize to the people of this state if she's going to be trying to take credit for these accomplishments that she actually spoke out against."

This post was updated Thursday, Nov. 4 at 2:47 p.m.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter