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Sunday Talk: Joni Ernst: With the Right Mix of Policies, We Can Address the Child Care Crisis.

Just recently, I was catching up with a friend from Montgomery County who confessed she had been having a difficult time balancing both her job as an essential worker and her responsibilities as a mother of three. When COVID-19 hit last spring, and schools transitioned to virtual learning, her kids struggled to adapt to the unfamiliar routine of online schooling. Now, even though her kids are in school for a portion of the day, they are without access to after-school child care and get home long before she does—leaving her unable to help out with challenging homework assignments until late in the evening.

She said to me, “Joni, I feel like such a failure as a mother. I’m exhausted when I get home. I’m trying to help my kids. I just feel like I’m failing them.”

Sadly, her story is not unique. Too many moms and dads are sharing this same struggle right now. We all want what’s best for our kids, and would do anything to give them opportunities to be successful.

Access to quality, affordable child care is hard to come by—particularly in Iowa’s rural areas—and our kiddos and working parents are paying the price. As a mom who has been in those situations, I’m going to keep pushing at the federal level to help tackle this crisis.

Last week, while I was out on my 99 County Tour, I visited Inman Primary School, a new daycare in my hometown of Red Oak. It’s a beautiful facility, and during my tour and discussion with the folks there, it was clear how important it is to our working families in the area.

In addition to the daycare in Montgomery County, I met with parents and local leaders of the Glidden community and heard about their incredible success story combatting the rural child care crisis in their area. Through a public-private partnership, they were able to come together and create their own child care center. The Lil’ Wildcat Education Center, which is set to launch in the 2022-2023 academic year, is the result of support from the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and from private investments.

I want to make sure communities across our state, especially in our rural areas and child care ‘deserts,’ have that same opportunity. That’s why I’m working across the aisle to help expand access to child care and boost support for projects like the one I visited in Glidden.

Child care is, and should be, a bipartisan issue. In the Senate, I’ve teamed up with my friends Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act, which would provide $100 million in grants for states to increase access to licensed child care services in child care deserts. The grants would cover 50% of the cost of programs to support training for caregivers, and/or projects to build, expand, or renovate child care facilities in child care deserts.

The folks in Glidden have demonstrated that, with the right policies and support, we can work to fix the child care crisis in Iowa and ensure our working moms and dads and kiddos have access the resources they need.

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