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Iowa House passes bills aimed at improving child care access

iowa statehouse
Madeleine King
The Iowa House of Representatives passed two bills Wednesday aimed at expanding access to child care.

The Republican-led Iowa House of Representatives passed two bills Wednesday aimed at expanding access to child care, but Democratic lawmakers warned the proposals could negatively affect providers, parents and children.

One bill would allow peoplereceiving government-funded child care assistance to enter into agreements with child care providers to pay some extra money.

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, said it is one piece of the puzzle of improving child care in the state.

“If I am a family that receives child care assistance, and I want to work out a rate with a provider in my community who doesn’t otherwise take child care assistance, I can have that conversation with them and have the option to pay the difference between the [CCA] rate and the private pay rate,” Fry said.

An Iowa Department of Human Services official told lawmakers that Iowans who are eligible to receivechild care assistance are “some of the poorest of the working poor.”

Most Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would lead to some child care providers discriminating against families that will not or cannot pay extra. They offered aimed at preventing that issue, but Republicans rejected them.

Fry said lawmakers can address that later if it becomes a problem.

“It will be a problem if you’re the one losing your child care spot,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. “If you’re losing the CCA slot that allows you to work because someone else is able to pay a little more, then it will be a critical issue for you.”

Mascher said some child care providers are already trying to get CCA recipients to pay extra money, and this bill would make that practice legal. She also asked Fry if Republicans have any plans to raise child care worker wages this year, but Fry did not commit to doing that.

The bill passed with a 61-37 mostly party-line vote.

Allowing teens to work unsupervised in child care centers

The second bill that passed would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to care for school-age kids at a child care center without adult supervision.

Rep. Tracy Ehlert, D-Cedar Rapids, works in early childhood education. She said she voted for the bill in committee because Republicans worked to improve it, but she is opposing it now because she still sees a lot of issues.

Ehlert said it’s good that teens are working in child care, and she hopes they continue in the education field.

“But do I want them unsupervised? No,” Ehlert said. “There’s just too many unintended consequences. And then how do they get that mentorship when they’re working unsupervised? They could potentially be unsupervised from day one. How do they know developmentally appropriate practices?”

Ehlert said some insurance companies may refuse to insure child care centers that have teens working unsupervised.

Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, said the bill provides an option for child care centers to help with staffing. Meyer said one of her constituents who runs a child care center asked for this change.

“This is a workforce issue,” Meyer said. “This is not the only thing that’s going to solve this problem. But it is part of the issue. It is opening up more possibilities to child care centers if they choose to take them.”

Meyer said she has heard of insurance companies that will insure child care centers with teens working unsupervised.

The bill passed 55-43, with a few Republicans joining Democrats in voting no. Both bills now go to the Senate.

A third child care bill was pulled from Wednesday’s House debate schedule. It would increase the number of toddlers a single child care worker could supervise at the same time.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said he wants to make sure House Republicans feel comfortable with it.

“I think that was just one that we’re just going to continue to spend some more time working through,” Grassley said. “But I think ultimately, we’ll find a pathway to be able to continue to move these child care bills forward.”

Last year, the Iowa Legislature removed the “cliff effect” for child care assistance and doubled the income level that makes a family eligible for the child care tax credit. Federal money has also poured into the state for child care, and Gov. Kim Reynolds put a lot of it toward “stabilization” grants for child care centers.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter