Iowa Child Care Crisis

Iowa Child Care Crisis

For many working families, decisions about placing their children in childcare is a tough decision and finding options can be a difficult task. One way is to use the Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) , a state program that helps connect parents to providers with open spots in licensed centers, preschools, child development homes, childcare homes, and federal programs like Head Start.

In Iowa, there are 2 kinds of home childcare providers – childcare homes (fewer than 6 children at one time in a home and exempt from licensing or state regulation) and registered child development homes (meeting state certification rules and caring for more children). Providers are frequently parents looking to earn income while staying home with their own children, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Iowa also licenses larger childcare centers in commercial building, churches, and schools, but license categories don’t specify between preschool, after-school, pre-kindergarten, and basic childcare. Preschool and pre-kindergarten options are often listed in the Iowa Voluntary Preschool Program, but are not required to do so.

In whatever way parents locate childcare for their children, it is expensive. CCR&R notes that the average cost of year-round, full-time infant care at a licensed center in Iowa is more than $11,400 annually (2021), significantly higher than in-state college tuition at the University of Iowa ($7,770). Here are a few statistics on the average cost of childcare per week in Iowa (2021):

Iowa Child Care Assistance (CCA) provides subsidies for families earning less than 145% of the federally defined poverty line (about $33,393 for a family of 3 in 2021). Child Care Assistance has a particularly low use rate in Iowa. In federal fiscal year 2016, CCA served only 24% of Iowa children eligible based on the state’s eligibility criteria at the time, and only 9% of children were potentially eligible if the state adopted more generous eligibility parameters allowed by the federal government.

Since then, Iowa has not increased its CCA entrance eligibility level, still 145% of poverty and among the nation’s lowest. It has, however, allowed families, once on, to continue to receive CCA when their earnings rise above the eligibility cap. This good if limited option known as CCA Plus removes the penalty — loss of childcare help — for working more or getting a better job. CCA Plus served 8% of children receiving childcare subsidies in an average month in state fiscal year 2021. CCA still excludes families who make even a dollar more than the cap when they first apply.

This makes it especially hard for those entering the work force making $15 to $20 because they qualify for no help with childcare, even though they earn far below what they need to get by. Although Iowa has raised CCA reimbursements in recent years, it still generally pays below market rates, making it difficult for providers — who themselves often earn too little to meet a basic-needs budget — to accept CCA children.

And CCA operates within the broader, stretched childcare industry. Even if a family qualifies, they must find a provider willing to accept it, who has an open slot, during the right hours, in an accessible location, with programming and practices acceptable to the family.

Iowa has long been a state with one of the highest rates of families with both parents or the only parent working outside the home. In addition, single female head of households are often left with the struggle to work while finding affordable and accessible childcare. The availability of childcare is essential to working women and families, and just one of the issues Chrysalis works to make employers and politicians informed about. With our sister fund in Iowa City, the Iowa Women’s Foundation, we partner to build awareness of this critical support to women in the workplace – and a key issue for the future of our state.