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Ernst: Work across aisle to improve child care access

During the past five years, Iowa has lost more than 40% of its regulated child care providers, and our rural communities are bearing the brunt of it.

In fact, a quarter of Iowans are now living in what are known as “child care deserts,” or areas with a child care shortage.

For example, Iowa Falls, a town of about 5,000 in Hardin County, lost its only child care center last fall, when the nonprofit provider Riverbend Child Care was forced to close its doors. That means that for every three children that need care in Hardin County, there is now just one location available.

The shortage of quality providers has made it increasingly challenging and expensive for working parents to find quality care for their children. After Riverbend closed, an in-home child care center around 17 miles from Iowa Falls — which is about a 40-minute round-trip commute for parents to drop off and pick up their kids — started to see an uptick in requests for day care. Unfortunately, the facility was already at capacity and unable to handle the overflow.

And this isn’t an isolated incident. According to The Des Moines Register, Early Childhood Iowa, a state government initiative designed to help promote child care and support, estimates that more than half of all children in Iowa lack access to a child care facility.

That’s why I’m working across the aisle with Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, on a bill that cuts red tape for nonprofit child care providers by using existing infrastructure and opportunities through the Small Business Administration.

Right now, the SBA offers multiple programs to help small businesses access capital, including the 7(a) program and the 504/Certified Development Company program.

Although for-profit child care providers are currently able to utilize SBA programs, nonprofit providers, such as the now-closed Riverbend Child Care center, can’t access these programs.

Our bipartisan bill would allow nonprofit child care providers to access the capital necessary to serve the child care needs in their communities, whether that is opening new centers or expanding and upgrading existing services.

The Small Business Child Care Investment Act is truly a win-win-win.

First and foremost, it provides our working parents with greater access to quality and affordable care for their children.

Secondly, it benefits our nonprofits across the state looking to start new child care centers.

And it gives current child care providers the opportunity to expand and upgrade their centers to better serve communities across Iowa.

Over the past few years, Iowa has experienced tremendous growth, rising wages and record-low unemployment. With employers across our state competing for workers, Iowans, many of whom are new parents, have been able to find good-paying jobs.

While these jobs mean quality paychecks for our moms and dads, more and more of Iowa’s working parents are facing tough decisions when it comes to care for their children.

We need to improve access to affordable and quality child care. This bipartisan bill is a good place to start.

Click here to read the senator’s op-ed in the Telegraph Herald.