Ernst Bill Would Provide Needed Help on Child Care; Now Congress Needs to Act

July 23, 2020 | Nicole Crain

Nicole Crain, Executive Vice President, ABI

Each week we see new, continued unemployment claims in the news around the country. In Iowa, our unemployment rate is currently at 8%. However, what we don’t know is the story behind the numbers.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry represents employers in a wide variety of industries. Some industries have been hit harder by COVID-19 than others. What most members tell us time and again is that employee absenteeism and unemployment claims continue, even though work is available and workers are needed.

One common theme we hear from employers, regardless of the industry, is the need for child care. As Iowa schools contemplate how best to get back to school and businesses begin phased opening approaches, this issue will only get louder. Now is the time to act to ensure there are options available for working parents.

Late last year, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to evaluate the state of child care in Iowa. The study, Untapped Potential: How Child Care Impacts Iowa’s Economy, found employers lost $781 million annually before COVID-19 because of absences and employee turnover from lack of child care.

As we look at the current situation, employers continue to see increased absenteeism related to child care for a host of reasons—from expanded unemployment policies to allow unemployment benefits for those staying home due to child care, to exposure to COVID-19 at child care centers, to medical leave due to children getting COVID-19.

To get our economy going again and provide stability to Iowa employers and employees, we need stable child care. As Congress considers yet another relief package, something must be done on child care. Iowans are ready to get back to work and there are lots of opportunities in rural and urban Iowa, but we need Congress to help support the child care industry.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst has introduced legislation to address the issue. Her leadership and understanding of how this affects Iowans is important, and we hope Congress will move this legislation forward. From increased costs and availability of cleaning supplies, to uncertainty in enrollment, early childhood education centers need support.

Senator Ernst’s legislation to help centers with operating expenses and acquiring PPE and supplies, while giving states flexibility, is what we need right now. The federal support will come at a time when Iowans want to get back to work. Iowa has the highest female labor force participation rate in the country, and Iowa women are proud of that.

I urge Congress to act to help all Iowans get back to work and help Iowa children get the early childhood education they need by supporting efforts in the next relief package. Now is the time for us to look at things differently. Businesses have been stepping up to support child care and working families the last several years, and we hope Congress will take action as well.

Nicole Crain is executive vice president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. You may email her at

Editor's note: This blog post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Des Moines Register.