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Changes to child care system could help you get your kid enrolled in program

A bill passed by the legislature and supported by Gov. Kim Reynolds would eliminate Iowa's child care cliff.


  • Bill passed by the legislature and supported by Gov. Reynolds would eliminate Iowa's child care cliff, gradually phasing families off of assistance once they start earning a certain amount
  • Income eligibility for child care tax credits doubled from families making $45,000 a year to families making $90,000 a year
  • 28% of Iowa cities are considered child care deserts

DES MOINES, Iowa — Changes are coming to Iowa’s child care laws; welcome news to many parents who have faced issues finding adequate, affordable options.

Shaya Graves, who needs child care for her 10- and 4-year-old sons, has been struggling to find child care for years.

Her 10-year-old has special needs and many centers won’t care for him and his younger brother together.

“The older kids have nowhere to go,” Graves said. “They have nowhere to go but running around on the streets. Their parents are at work. I see that and I don’t want that for my kids.”

It’s not just finding child care that Graves is having trouble with.

Currently, she currently has no car, meaning any care she finds needs to be within walking distance of her home or on a bus route.

“Don’t close doors on people who need child care,” Graves said. “Parents are working. They want to provide. They don’t want to be on aide. They want to be able to provide for their kids”

Graves finally found an after-school program to take her 10-year-old. Her 4-year-old is getting care elsewhere.

“I ended up finding some day care, but it’s an afterschool program situation so it’s not all the way taken care of because the summer is coming up and I’m worried about that again,” Graves said. “What am I going to do for the older one if I can get my littlest one somewhere. It’s just a lot. It’s overwhelming when you’re trying to keep a job.”

Graves actually took three pay cuts before finding a job to accommodate for the hours her kids’ child care programs are open.

"I took a pay cut because I had to work mothers' hours for my kids in order to pay the bills in my household and pay rent,” Graves said. “When is somebody going to open up somewhere that is going to be able to work around my hours?”

According to a report from the Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral, which is overseen by the Iowa Department of Human Services, 28% of Iowa cities are considered child care deserts.

That means there are more than 50 children in the community and there are more than 3 children per slot.

The report looked at data from January 2020, before the pandemic made child care even more scarce.

Many child care centers have plans to reopen to full capacity soon if they haven’t already.

Bidwell Riverside Child Development Center in Des Moines had plans to allow for 100% enrollment starting June 1, but they aren’t able to do that now because they can’t find adequate staffing.

COVID has really exacerbated all of the issues and problems in the early education and care field,” said Kay Strahorn, director at Bidwell Riverside Child Development Center. “Before COVID there were child care deserts, before COVID parents couldn't afford or find quality child care, before COVID the workforce wasn't paid what it was worth. And yes, COVID has made all of these problems worse."

Iowa lawmakers take steps to improve child care access

A few child care-related bills passed the legislature this year and the governor has signaled support for them.

One would eliminate what is referred to as a "child care cliff."

Right now, when families start to make over a certain dollar amount, they lose all assistance.

This has caused many families to turn down promotions or better job opportunities because, while they make more money, they’d net negative because of the loss of the benefits.  

If signed, this change would make that change gradual, so families would be tapered off assistance.

Another bill, which has been signed by the governor, allows an extra school-aged child at in-home child care centers.

Lawmakers also increased the income eligibility for child care tax credits. If signed, families making $90,000 a year will be eligible for the tax credits. Before, the cut-off was $45,000.

“Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) was pleased that lawmakers passed legislation to address Iowa's child care assistance cliff this session,” EJ Wallace, SCAN’s Iowa State Manager, said in an emailed statement. “We’re hopeful that Gov. Reynolds' Child Care Task Force works quickly to prioritize investments in children, such as stabilizing the child care industry. Without urgent help, quality, affordable and accessible child care will continue to be out of reach for many Iowa families.”

Strahorn said state leaders need to start looking at finding ways to get more people into the child care profession.