By Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer
Access to affordable and quality childcare is not only a critical need for families and children — it’s also essential to the economic success of our communities.
But today, in northeast Iowa and across the country, families and communities are facing a crisis of access and affordability, and that crisis is only deepening amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the derecho storm that devastated communities across the state.
Without good childcare options, parents are too often forced to drop out of the workforce, denying them the opportunity for personal and financial advancement and denying our economy the benefits of their skills and abilities. The situation is especially dire in our rural areas, where more and more small towns are becoming childcare deserts — making it harder to attract young families and the good jobs from small businesses that might hire them.
Since taking office nearly two years ago, I’ve made childcare a top priority, raising awareness of the issue in Congress, introducing bipartisan legislation to address the problem and advancing meaningful changes to our unacceptable status quo.
I’ve introduced five bipartisan bills addressing various aspects of the childcare crisis, including measures to ensure federal small-business resources are available to childcare entrepreneurs (the COACH Act); to provide federal grants and loans to communities and childcare providers (the ACCESS Act and Small Business Childcare Investment Act); and to increase information and assistance available to childcare centers on safely operating during the pandemic (the Ensuring Children and Child Care Workers Are Safe Act). I’m proud this week that last bill passed the House of Representatives with huge bipartisan support.
I also introduced the Child Care is Essential Act, which passed in July as one of the House’s major legislative accomplishments of the current Congress. The bill makes $50 billion available to provide grants to childcare providers including for employee salaries and benefits, business expenses like rent and utilities, training, and PPE, cleaning supplies and equipment.
As we continue to force the issue of affordable and accessible childcare onto the national agenda, it’s incredibly important that Iowa voices are part of the discussion. Those same voices are what got us to a point of passing important legislation in the first place.
In February, we held a bipartisan. hearing of the Small Business Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship (RATE) subcommittee where Iowans spoke about the ongoing needs. Among the speakers was Dan Levi, the co-chair of the Black Hawk County Child Care Coalition.
In March, we put out a call for Iowans’ stories about the importance of childcare and the challenges with finding it — stories that enhanced my understanding of the issue and allowed me to advocate more forcefully for the needs of northeast Iowa.
As we fight to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and begin to rebuild from the derecho, access to high-quality, affordable childcare is more important than ever. It’s an education issue, a rural vitality issue, a workforce issue, an economic issue and a quality-of-life issue — all at once.
And childcare is bigger than politics — Democrats and Republicans agree that for the sake of our kids, parents and communities, we must increase access and lower cost. My work across the aisle proves that there’s a consensus on this, and a will to get it done.
This is personal for me. Improving access to childcare can help Iowans stay closer to home to build their families and careers — and even bring more Iowans back home. I’ve heard it myself: young Iowans want to be able to settle down in the places they grew up and raise their children near their grandparents, but they need high-quality, affordable childcare to do it. That’s especially true now, as the pandemic has people rethinking the types of communities they want to live in.
We can do better — and we will. That’s what I’m fighting for as your congresswoman, and what we’ll continue to fight for day-in and day-out.
Abby Finkenauer represents Iowa’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives.