By Rep. Dustin Hite
I hope everyone had a safe and restful Memorial Day this Monday. With the constant focus of COVID-19, it was nice to take time off to remember the men and women in uniform that have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe. With that, I would like to share some updates regarding the Legislature.
When the community spread of COVID-19 officially hit Iowa in mid-March, we saw businesses quickly react. Employees who could transitioned to working from home and schools closed their buildings and moved learning online. These and other experiences have magnified overnight the importance of a quality internet connection.
Ever since I decided to run, I have made it a priority to increase broadband access and improve internet connections in unserved and underserved areas across Iowa. The digital divide has become even more prominent now as work, education, medicine, and other services, who already utilized the internet, have been more and more dependent on an internet connection during the coronavirus pandemic.
My colleagues and I passed a number of bills early in this legislative session focused on providing internet access to underserved areas. We recognized the best way to do this was to be technology agnostic in our solutions, minimize red tape and administrative costs, and maximize the impact of dollars spent. Work remains to get HF 2575, HF 2442, and HF 2520 to the governor for her signature, but the recent coronavirus experience has demonstrated they need to be done.
100 years ago, we realized that no one should be without access to electricity and there was a concerted effort to reach everyone – no matter how rural or remote with electricity. Today nearly everything we use in our daily lives uses electricity in some way. Broadband has become our “electricity” and we need continued efforts at both the state and federal level to ensure every Iowan has access to reliable Internet.
Of course, COVID-19 has also revealed how important childcare is to so many in the state. Before the legislature paused, the Iowa House overwhelmingly passed four bills to expand access to child care in the state. These bills were part of a legislative package brought forward by House Republicans this session to increase the child care workforce, increase provider rates to maintain existing child care facilities, provide incentives to develop new child care facilities, and support hard-working families afford the high cost of child care. Now, these bills are more important than ever, as child care is a key factor in getting Iowans back to work after this public health emergency.
The four bills that are to be considered by the Senate:
House File 2424 passed unanimously to establish a state-funded off-ramp program from Child Care Assistance (CCA) that will gradually increase cost-sharing from families as they increase their income. This bill removes the ceiling on Iowan’s ability to be successful. You often hear about the cliff effect in government programs – where individuals are stuck in welfare dependency and the program is limiting their ability to take a raise or promotion. This bill addresses the cliff effect in Child Care Assistance and will help Iowans who have struggled financially through this government shutdown.
House File 2270 and House File 2271 provide significant rate increases to child care providers accepting Child Care Assistance. The increase between the two bills amounts to $11 million annually directly to child care providers covered with federal carry forward funds. Between 2018 and 2019, we saw a reduction of 18 licensed child care centers, 140 child development homes, and 99 unregistered homes accepting CCA in Iowa. Those numbers pale in comparison to the 882 centers and 162 childcare development homes that have temporarily closed due to COVID-19. DHS has infused $32 million of CARES funding to these providers to help them reopen, but the legislation passed by the House is needed to sustain these necessary daycare programs for the future.
House File 2600 establishes a public/private partnership to expand the child care workforce in the state. This bill will help recruit and retain child care providers in Iowa by providing matching funds to communities that match the state funds.
Additional bills from House Republicans are being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee. In total, this child care legislative package will take significant steps to address child care access and affordability throughout the state, and will help Iowa recover quickly following this public health emergency. As always, please email me at email@example.com with any questions, comments, or concerns. The Legislature will reconvene on June 3, and I am looking forward to continuing to represent District 79 at the Statehouse.