Opportunity to receive $250,000 in State funding to support local childcare needs help from Allamakee County communities; Meeting set for Thursday

by Lissa Blake

Trying to raise half a million dollars to increase child care availability in Allamakee County might seem like a monumental task, but the opportunity is readily available if the local community can come together to take advantage of it.

The State of Iowa Department of Health and Human Services is offering half of that funding total, and the Allamakee County community needs to raise the other $250,000 by the end of October in order to receive the State’s contribution, with $60,000 already pledged to that county match commitment by some local businesses and organizations.

Everyone interested in helping to find solutions for additional access to child care in Allamakee County is invited to an informational meeting scheduled for this Thursday, October 19 from 12-1:30 p.m. at Lansing Office Works, 274 Main Street in Lansing. Lunch will be provided (see additional details in the shaded box printed on this same page).

Allamakee County recently was chosen as one of 10 counties in Iowa to receive up to $250,000 in matching funds to address the shortage of child care in the county. In order to receive the State funds, counties must secure matching pledges by the end of this month.

At present, about $60,000 has been raised toward the $250,000 goal. Local organizers are hosting the October 19 meeting in an effort to both bring awareness regarding the area’s child care shortage and also to secure additional pledges for the initiative.

Michelle Barness, regional planner with Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC), said northeast Iowa has had a need for additional quality childcare for many years. According to Barness, Allamakee County has lost nine percent of its child care businesses over the past five years and 56 percent over the last 10 years.

“This is a statewide and national issue … right up there with housing,” said Barness.

Val Reinke of Allamakee County Economic Development explained the State’s wage enhancement program (which is what the funding match raised locally would be used for) is intended to help increase wages for child care providers across the board.

“The average wage for a child care worker in northeast Iowa is $11.50 per hour. We want to secure these additional funds, so we can attract additional quality people to the industry,” said Reinke.

She said the decreasing number of child care options and increasing child care costs also are having a “huge impact on the workforce.”

“Workers in Allamakee County are paying about 14 percent of their income for child care here, while the national guideline considers seven percent affordable,” said Reinke.

Reinke noted the local child care shortage is a community issue with a ripple effect that impacts everyone. With approximately 1,081 below-school-age children in the county and 71 percent of families having two parents who work outside the home, there is only available daycare for about 62 percent of those children.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, child care issues result in an estimated $935 million loss annually for Iowa’s economy. Absences and employee turnover cost Iowa employers an estimated $781 million per year. Sixty-three percent of parents say child care costs influence their careers.

In addition, child care workers in Iowa are the third-lowest-paid profession in the state. “We pay people more to take care of our hamburgers,” said a release from the Iowa Women’s Foundation.

“Childcare workers don’t get paid enough, so there is a worker shortage, which impacts child care availability, which impacts workers and employers,” according to data compiled by UERPC.

Barness and Reinke explained the matching funds, available through the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, could do the following:
• Create a county wage enhancement program - child care providers apply for funds to increase compensation to a livable wage for staff, hopefully retaining these positions and increasing care capacity for families and workers.
• Program would be housed under an economic development authority, which can receive contributions, take provider applications, distribute the funds and complete necessary tracking/reporting.
• 50:50 Match - Money from the program is matched by private local funds secured for wage enhancement. Public funds are also requested to help build a wage enhancement fund to where the county would like it to be. Allamakee County hopes to increase the average child care worker wage from about $12 per hour to about $16 per hour, depending on the level of donations received.

Call Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission at 563-382-6171 to learn more about how a tax deductible donation can help the child care situation in Allamakee County, or to RSVP for Thursday’s meeting. Pledges in support of the childcare initiative need to be finalized by the end of this month of October.