Over the last weeks, Congress has passed a series of relief bills giving states financial support and a series of policy options to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. It's up to the states, including Iowa, to decide if and how to implement the new flexibility and how to use those funds. This week, two areas where Iowa has taken some welcomed steps, but needs to do more: child care and food assistance.
Iowa must act now to stabilize our child care system
During the best of times, many working families with young children are pushed to the brink to afford quality, reliable child care, and many providers struggle to make ends meet. Working parents and providers are among those most harmed by the immediate Covid-19 crisis and they will face serious challenges in the economic slowdown sure to follow.
State leaders can take immediate steps to help families and providers alike during — and after — this crisis. The federal CARES Act includes $3.5 billion in new Child Care Development Block Grant funds, of which Iowa is expected to receive $30.5 million. States also have been given more flexibility in how to use both new and existing federal funds, which means Iowa has both the resources and discretion to best meet the needs of families and providers.
Here is what state leaders should do immediately:
Temporarily suspend family eligibility redetermination for child care assistance. This will ensure that temporary changes in family work participation, earnings or other Covid-19 factors do not hurt eligibility or cut more revenue from providers
Expand CCA benefit eligibility for families. This will widen the pool of children providers can enroll, bringing important financial stability to providers and families alike.
Establish a state emergency fund to help providers facing financial losses. Funds, given as grants, can help providers safely maintain operations, hire substitute caregivers, provide paid leave for staff and cover other expenses resulting from Covid-19. The state should also help providers who are currently closed reopen as Iowans return to their jobs.
Even before the pandemic, legislators and the Governor agreed child care was in crisis. Covid-19 only increases the challenges facing our state's child care system — Iowans need our lawmakers to act and act quickly.
The Covid-19 pandemic means more Iowans are struggling to meet their most basic needs — including putting food on the table. The state can ensure access to food by leveraging the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), one of the nation's most effective anti-poverty initiatives, thanks to key changes at the federal level.
Here are two ways the state can promote food security for Iowans: 1) making sure Iowans already on SNAP (known in our state as Food Assistance) keep their benefits, and 2) streamlining new SNAP applications. Federal stimulus legislation has added flexibility to SNAP, offering states a variety of tools that bolster family security and support local economies.
Currently, Iowa has used only some of these tools, including:
Households can now receive the maximum SNAP amount for their household size. During April and May, additional benefits will be given to households not already receiving the full amount.
Adults who can work and have no dependents can now access benefits without time restrictions. Previously, they were eligible for SNAP only three months in a three-year period.
Households up for recertification in March, April or May now have their benefits renewed for the next six months.
But the state has left some options on the table:
Increasing benefits for households with children who would normally receive free school lunches. The Iowa Department of Human Services and Department of Education are currently working on this, and should implement it as soon as possible.
Streamlining the SNAP application process by not requiring an interview before approval.
Iowans face uncertain times in the weeks and months ahead, but the state can take smart, concrete steps right now to ensure families can put food on the table while supporting our local economies. Check out the full Iowa Fiscal Partnership policy brief by Natalie Veldhouse here.
Part 3: On the ground at the Coralville Community Food Pantry. Food is a fundamental human need, one that many Iowans struggled to meet, even before the Covid-19 crisis. Now, with record-breaking numbers of Iowans applying for unemployment insurance — and with economy on the cusp of a recession — food security is now top concern for many.
Like many food banks across the state, the Coralville Community Food Pantry is on the front lines supporting Iowans — one bag of food at a time. Executive Director John Boller talks about the short- and long-term challenges facing the community, and how his organization is stepping up to meet Iowans' most basic needs.