Covid-19 continues to be top of mind for us here at the Center. Probably for you, too. This week we look at two ways the federal government can help Iowa effectively respond to the economic crisis — boosting support for child care and sending direct aid to states to hold off catastrophic budget cuts. We finish with our most recent podcast, a conversation with Janee Harvey at the Department of Human Services about child welfare in the coronavirus era. It's a fascinating, detail-packed listen on a timely topic.
Survey: help for the child care industry is essential
A vast majority of Americans — 87 percent — support financial assistance for the child care industry during the crisis, according to a recent survey from Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) and Child Care Aware of America. Survey findings suggest Americans, regardless of demographics or political affiliation, see child care as critical and in need of immediate help during Covid-19.
“Child care is not simply another small business — it’s a $100 billion industry indispensable to families and the economy,” said E.J. Wallace, SCAN's Iowa state manager. “Voters across party lines understand this. Now it’s time for our elected leaders to act and prioritize this industry in all upcoming stimulus packages.”
An initial round of relief is on its way, as Iowa received $31.9 million through the CARES Act to help child care providers stay open or re-open: a good start, but for an industry in crisis before the pandemic hit, more action is needed.
"This week, DHS announced their plan to use the CARES Act funding to help stabilize Iowa’s child care system," said CFPC policy director Sheila Hansen. "We believe this is a good first step but we know more is needed to help the economy bounce back as Iowans return to work."
Reserves won't make up for state revenue shortfall
Iowa’s state budget is shrinking in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, jeopardizing funding for education, health care, public safety and other important services. More federal fiscal relief is needed to avoid drastic cuts that will only make the recession longer and more painful.
Iowa faces an estimated $1.14 billion revenue shortfall through June of 2021, the end of next fiscal year. Although the state received $1.25 billion through the CARES Act, the state isn't permitted to use those funds to make up for lost revenue.
Iowa has $784 million in reserve to help weather the economic downturn, but much will likely go toward making up for the immediate revenue shortfall before the current fiscal year ends next month. Without substantial federal aid in the next stimulus package, Iowa faces drastic cuts to education, public universities and community colleges, public safety, infrastructure and other key services Iowans value.
Learn more. Read the Iowa Fiscal Partnership brief.
New on the podcast Child welfare in the coronavirus era
With the arrival of Covid-19, the Iowa Department of Human Services, the state’s largest department, is facing uncharted territory. In our latest podcast episode, Anne is joined by Janee Harvey, who administers the department's Adult, Children and Family Services division, to discuss how DHS is responding to the crisis and big changes on the horizon for child welfare services. Or check out the Q&A below for highlights.
Note: Content has been lightly edited for length and clarity
Q. How has the work at DHS changed in the last month due to Covid-19?
A. When I think about our recent work, ‘frantic’ comes to mind. We’ve had multi-layered challenges in making sure we can do the work and do it well. Our inability to work from home was an immediate obstacle to overcome — DHS has historically lacked the infrastructure that would’ve allowed people to work at a place other than their office. So how do you shift a massive workforce to working remotely in a short period of time? Beyond that transition, every area of the work we do started to change immediately once the crisis hit. It’s required multi-layered, varied approaches that focus on our core mission — to ensure the health and well-being of those we serve. And we’re serving more people, and serving them quite well, than ever before.
Q. We’ve been watching the various federal stimulus bills the government has made available to states. Can you talk about how Iowa is using these resources in the areas you oversee?
A. We’ve seen support come through legislation like the CARES Act, which provides Iowa with more than $30 million specifically for child care. And we are so excited for this opportunity to support child care in our state. The department has done an excellent job of quickly connecting with providers, gauging the grassroots needs and determining what challenges they’re facing. Based on the qualitative feedback received we’ve created a plan that offers support and flexibility to our child care providers. For example, if providers are open and plan to stay open they can receive a stipend; if they offer a discount to essential workers they get another stipend; and if they’re closed but want to reopen we can provide a grant to help them do that. It’s a pretty sophisticated plan that allows us to intentionally invest in providers — something to be proud of.
Q. Are there areas you weren’t able to address with that $30 million?
A. We can always use more financial resources to continue to support our child care providers, so I will never say we have enough. But I do feel really encouraged about what we will be supporting in Iowa with that money. We know our providers are absolutely essential to ensuring that our economy can run; they are frequently overlooked and underpaid. We respect them and want to ensure they have what they need.
Q. Let’s transition to child welfare. There’s been a pretty worrisome drop recently in domestic child abuse cases in Iowa. That might sound like good news, but no one is looking at the drop as a good thing. Can you talk about that decline and what’s behind it?
A. We have seen a measurable drop in the number of calls our centralized unit has received. So we can compare that to right before the crisis hit or to a similar point in time in previous years. Our current circumstances with the pandemic are creating unprecedented challenges. We know the education community is one of the primary reporters for us as teachers are uniquely positioned to spot signs of abuse and report it. Of course, without in-person classes those teacher-student relationships are diminished. And with more people being isolated we’re finding many lack the knowledge or context to identify a bad situation. You’re absolutely right — we’re not interpreting this drop in cases as ‘wow, kids are really safe right now.’ In fact, most child welfare professionals would assume that in a crisis like this, pretty much anyone can be experiencing factors that potentially lead to abuse. All of us are experiencing grief, loss and anxiety right now. And the isolating response to this crisis only makes things more challenging.
Q. The Family First Prevention Services Act is closely connected to child welfare. Can you remind us what the legislation is and what it means for Iowa?
A. The Family First Act is a new federal funding bill passed in 2018 that encourages states to invest in evidence-based services in foster care. The idea is that it’s possible to keep kids out of the foster care system without increasing the risk of danger, and it can be done effectively by using methods proven to work and by implementing them well. The federal government is encouraging this by providing robust funding to states that prioritize this front-end approach. On the flip side, federal funding for congregate and group care is becoming much more restricted. With both of these things happening simultaneously it’s a bit of a seesaw for us, but we’ve made some big decisions here in Iowa under the Family First framework. One exciting change is a complete reconstruction of the contracts we use for foster care, with a focus on evidence-based practices and methods. We’ll be able to provide every family in the state with a child under the age of six with parenting tools and resources through Safe Care. We’ll also offer crisis intervention — an intensive ten-day service for families at risk of child removal — where we’ll go into the home and focus on ensuring child safety.
Q. These changes are set to start in July. How has the department worked to ensure a smooth transition?
A. We’ve done some strategic engagement with the help of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, including a deep dive into data analysis that have informed our decisions around which methods to use. We’re also developing a support structure that will provide training and resources to staff as we make this shift. It’s been challenging with Covid-19 to get staff up to speed as most trainings are designed to be in person. But it won’t affect our efforts to successfully transition to Family First.
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