Last week, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, an important step in responding to COVID-19. But lawmakers will need to do much more to address urgent needs in areas like health coverage, food assistance for people who are struggling to make ends meet, and public services at the state level.
We’re asking Congress to quickly begin work on another bill to address the critical gaps in the CARES Act. Specifically, lawmakers must take measures to expand health coverage and cover COVID-19 treatment for people who are uninsured, boost SNAP to help Iowans put food on the table and boost spending at local businesses, and provide additional fiscal relief for states.
State fiscal relief included in the CARES Act is less than what the federal government sent to states during the 2008 recession and billions below what is needed to make up for lost tax revenue due to the economic effects of this crisis. Without more fiscal aid to Iowa—especially an additional increase in federal Medicaid funds—state leaders will be forced to cut services and lay off teachers and other workers.
Good choices by government leaders now will help our communities weather the outbreak and set a better course for the future.
CARES Act offers some relief for child care. But is it enough?
The federal CARES Act provides an additional $3.5 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant—the main source of child care assistance for American families. That’s significant considering the regular FY 2020 appropriation was $5.826 billion. Iowa should see an increase of $30.5 million, funding intended to support parents of young children whose workforce participation is critically important right now, like health care employees, emergency responders and sanitation workers. Importantly, it waives the requirement that workers must make under 85 percent of state median income—the maximum income level allowed by federal law during normal times—to qualify for child care assistance.
The funding comes with important policy provisions to help providers. Funding may be used to continue to pay providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures and ensure they can remain open or to reopen when they are able. Operators are encouraged to use the funds to continue paying staff. Lastly, these funds are available to any child care provider, not just those who were receiving CCDBG funds prior to the outbreak.
The latter is a little concerning – it means federal dollars may go to unregulated care or those who DHS has no oversight. We will monitor this and all the other provision closely and continue to advocate for best practices during these unprecedented times.
The federal bill also includes an additional $5 billion for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which may be used by communities to expand child care. And finally, it provides $750 million for Head Start, of which up to $500 million can be used for supplemental summer programs through non-competitive grant supplements to existing grantees.
At the state level, Gov. Kim Reynolds has not required Iowa child care businesses to close during this pandemic, although many providers have done so of their own accord, for safety or financial constraints. We also know many who feel obligated to serve but are having a hard time making it financially, and who are struggling to find supplies like diapers, formula and cleaning products. (Tune into our most recent podcast conversation with CCR&R's Melissa Juhl to hear about the tough choices facing Iowa providers.)
Iowa DHS has issued guidance for facilities remaining open, such as hygiene (wash blankets daily and do not allow stuffed animals from home), taking temperatures and requiring parents to drop off kids and pick them up at the door instead of inside. DHS has also posted an interactive map that shows child care openings around the state. Officials are updating this map daily and hope essential workers will use it to locate care for their children.
New podcast mini-series COVID-19 in Iowa
The COVID-19 crisis has upended much of daily life for Iowans across the state, and we're all trying to find a new normal. Over the next few weeks, we'll be checking in with fellow advocates, partners and community members on what this crisis means for them, their families and the future of our state. Below we've included the first two episodes; keep an eye on your podcast feed and inbox for future installments!
Part 1: How social distancing affects social work. We kick things off with Denise Rathman, the executive director of the National Association of Social Workers Iowa chapter. Denise gives fascinating insight to the challenges and opportunities social workers in Iowa face in wake of COVID-19 and social distancing.
Part 2: COVID-19 and the catch-22 child care providers face. Iowa child care providers are facing a nearly impossible decision: whether or not to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Home- and center-based providers alike are weighing the health risks of staying open — and the financial risks of shutting down.
Melissa Juhl, the Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral Regional Director at Mid-Sioux Opportunity, joins the podcast to share how she's working with providers during the crisis, as well as steps the state can take to help these small business owners stay afloat.
Find your legislator
Not sure who represents you? With 50 senators and 100 representatives, it can be hard to keep tabs. Visit our Legislator Lookup tool to find out who represents you in the state house and senate, biographical information about each one and a link to their legislative websites, which list contact information and committee membership. All you need to do is enter your home address and zip code.
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Our presence at the state capitol during session is supported by individual Iowans who care about children and families—and support our work. Join us!