Access to high-quality, affordable childcare is a game-changer for working families, allowing for greater professional opportunity for parents and economic benefits throughout our communities.
But we’re facing a crisis of childcare availability and affordability here in northeast Iowa and in every corner of the country — a crisis being made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
As we engage in discussions about back-to-work and back-to-school plans, access to quality, reliable, affordable childcare must be part of the conversation. That’s why I’m advancing several important, bipartisan bills in Congress to keep this issue on the front burner and deliver real results for our kids, parents, businesses and communities.
Back in May, I introduced the Childcare is Essential Act, to improve childcare options for Iowans and ensure providers have the resources to weather the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill provides resources to support our post-coronavirus economic recovery and make needed investments to address the wider crisis of availability and affordability. It makes $50 billion available to states for grants to childcare providers to provide hazard pay for those who endangered their lives to take care of our kids as well as purchase PPE and cleaning supplies. It addresses inequal access to care by giving funding priority to providers in low-supply areas like rural communities, those offering care outside of standard 9-5 business hours and those serving low-income areas.
I’m proud to say the Childcare is Essential Act passed the House passed this week on a bipartisan vote, underscoring our commitment to making immediate and long-term investments to solve this crisis.
But that’s not all.
This month I also introduced the ACCESS Act and the COACH Act, two bipartisan bills aimed at giving childcare providers, local governments and community organizations resources to expand childcare access and ensure that it’s part of our local economic development strategy.
The ACCESS Act, which I introduced with Congressman Jim Hagedorn (R-MN), will make U.S. Department of Commerce grants available to local governments, community planning and development organizations and public-private partnerships seeking to increase access to childcare as part of a broader economic development strategy. Communities could use the funds to invest in childcare infrastructure and develop long-term regional strategies for driving economic growth through improved access to affordable childcare.
I’ve heard from Iowa businesses again and again about how childcare is one of the biggest challenges they have when it comes to recruiting and retaining talented employees. Now more than ever, high-quality, affordable childcare for hard-working families is essential to unlocking economic opportunity and growth.
The COACH Act, introduced with Congressman Dan Bishop (R-NC), would require the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), state-level lead childcare agencies, and local childcare resource and referral agencies to create a resource guide on how childcare providers can start and grow their small businesses.
The guide, updated at least every five years, would be publicly accessible and widely distributed. The bill would also require the SBA’s resource partners – like small business development centers, women’s business centers and veterans business outreach centers – to reach out to child care small businesses to make them aware of the guide and other resources tailored to their industry.
Hardworking Iowa families need better access to quality and affordable childcare, but starting a new daycare takes a lot of entrepreneurial know-how. The COACH Act will help trained and experienced childcare providers in our communities with the technical parts of getting a new business off the ground by making federal, state and local resources easier to find and easier to use.
This week I also introduced the Ensuring Children and Child Care Workers Are Safe Act with Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY), which will increase federal funding, educational resources and technical assistance for states and local childcare providers to prevent and mitigate Coronavirus in childcare facilities.
Expanding high-quality and affordable childcare options will directly benefit Iowa’s working families. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to increase access to childcare in all of our communities, rural and urban and everything in between.
Improving access to childcare isn’t a partisan issue — it’s just what’s best for our kids and our communities.
Abby Finkenauer represents Iowa’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives.