DES MOINES, Iowa — A lack of child care is a big barrier keeping people from returning to work.
This issue existed long before the pandemic, but COVID made the problem worse.
Providers told Local 5's Rachel Droze the state needs to make big investments into Iowa’s child care system before more high-quality, affordable facilities start opening.
Staff turnover is one of the main problems making child care tough to find.
"A majority of our teachers here in this building are working at pay levels below the poverty level so they aren't even making a livable wage,” New Horizons Academy Area Director Jeannine Laughlin said.
Iowa is getting $370 million in federal pandemic relief that is earmarked specifically for child care.
The state has started allocating some of those funds.
They’re being used to increase child care assistance rates, extend stipends to help speed up COVID recovery efforts and enhance programs aimed at retaining child care workers.
Some advocates wonder why the state isn’t pushing through more money faster.
"Iowa lost 33% of its child care workforce in the last 5 years, so we're in a situation where the pandemic has made that even worse,” said EJ Wallace, the Iowa state manager at Save the Children Action Network. “We need to pull out all the stops, invest all the money so parents can get back to work."
Advocates say they're happy with the steps taken by the legislature and state officials, but think more needs to be done.
"It is a place for bold action, and bold action is a place that is probably going to require us to make financial commitments," said Anne Discher, executive director at Common Good Iowa.
"We're going to have to step out of the box, be creative, figure out what is it going to take to see change so these systems can start working,” said Dawn Oliver Wiand, president of the Iowa Women's Foundation.
One outstanding issue providers wanted to see become law this past legislative session was raising the eligibility requirements for child care assistance so more families would be eligible.