DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate took steps Wednesday intended to improve the availability and stability of child care for lower-income working families.
Provisions of Senate File 2251, which passed on a 48-0 vote, were designed to remove barriers for low-income working parents by modifying guidelines to allow them to both work part time and pursue educational opportunities for a period of at least 28 hours a week while still qualifying for child care assistance, said Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids.
Currently, she said working parents may do only one or the other to be considered eligible for the program that pays all or part of the cost of child care services. The changes would apply to Iowa families at or below 145 percent of the federal poverty level and potentially could affect 115 to 160 families and 206 to 289 children, according to estimates by the state Department of Human Services.
“Hopefully, this would be more flexible for people,” Mathis said. “You want people to continue to go to school, and if they need to work, it’s only enhancing that employment opportunity and that skill. To give them credit for that and to give them child care assistance is only moving that employment needle forward.”
Senate File 2251 also requires parents to renew their application for services at 12 months instead of every six months, and it requires Human Services officials to develop a smartphone mobile application for applying for services. Currently, 22 states review application and eligibility for child care assistance services every 12 months.
Analysts in the Legislative Service Agency project the proposed changes would have a state budget impact of $3.22 million — $3,187,296 for the extended eligibility provision and $30,000 for mobile application development and implementation.
Also Wednesday, the Senate voted 28-21 to approve a bill that would provide supplemental state aid of nearly $50 million beginning in fiscal 2016 to help school districts deal with issues associated with a growing number of low-income students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
Senate File 2226 would require eligible students to receive a special “weighting” under the state’s foundation school aid program, which Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, the bill’s floor manager, said would amount to about $250 per pupil. He noted the number of students from low-income households who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches grew to 195,712 this fiscal year, or about 41 percent of the overall student population in K-12 public schools.
“This is a modest step,” said Quirmbach, who noted that the proposed increase was “not out of line” with other states offering similar supplements for things like before- and after-school programs, summer school programs, tutoring, mentoring or “other activities that districts feel is necessary to help these kids achieve equality of opportunity.”
Republican Sens. Rick Bertrand of Sioux City and Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa joined 26 Democrats in passing the measure and sending it to the GOP-run Iowa House, where it faces an uncertain future.
In other action Wednesday, senators voted 49-0 to authorize the state Department of Public Health to establish a state Lyme disease task force to look into issues associated with the illness spread via tick bites. Senate File 2090 also goes to the Iowa House for consideration.