House passes six child care bills: Tax credits, employer child care incentives and more

By: - February 10, 2021 7:14 pm

Universal pre-kindergarten is in a new Biden administration spending plan but paid family leave is out. (Photo by Getty Images)

Democrats pushed for more provider regulations as the Iowa House passed six child care bills Wednesday evening.

Most of the bills passed on a bipartisan basis with near-unanimous consent. They expand tax credits for parents and for employers that provide child care, eliminate a so-called “cliff” in child care benefits, and increase reimbursements for child care providers.

Major employers in Iowa that have struggled to expand their workforce have pushed lawmakers for policies and money to support affordable child care options.

One of the bills, House File 260, would allow unregulated child care providers to care for an additional child, increasing the cap to six kids. Democrats argued that child care providers in Iowa needed more regulation if they were trusted with more children, especially following several day care accidents in recent years.

Rep. Tracy Ehlert, D-Cedar Rapids, proposed an amendment that would require providers to enter an agreement with the Department of Human Services before taking on more kids. 

“We know there have been some examples of home providers who have provided care where a child has died or been injured,” Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said. “To me, that is unacceptable.”

Under current law, child care providers may care for up to five children without registering. A 2019 Des Moines Register investigation found that four children in Iowa died while attending over-capacity day cares, some of which were unregulated by the state. 

Ehlert’s amendment failed. Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, said the bill was meant to increase options for rural communities struggling with a lack of child care options.

“These are family members: grandparents, aunts, uncles. These are neighbors who are caring for children in our small communities,” Fry said. “In order for us to continue to regulate them, that would suggest that we somehow know better than what our small communities are able to provide and do.”

The House took a similar sprint through child care bills last session, passing five in one night. Only one of those bills cleared the Senate, however.

Here are the six child care bills approved Wednesday: 

  • House File 230: Increases the net income threshold to claim the early childhood tax credit from $45,000 to $90,000. The bill passed 90-1.
  • House File 370: Creates a tax credit of up to $150,000 to encourage employers to provide child care to their employees. The bill passed 88-6. 
  • House File 260: Allows unregulated home child care providers to care for up to six children, as long as one of them is school aged. The bill passed 70-24.
  • House File 292: Increases the reimbursement rate for the state child care assistance program. All child care providers would be brought up to the 50th percentile of the market rate. The bill passed 90-4. A similar bill passed the House in 2020.
  • House File 302: Creates a gradual phase-out program for families whose income rises while using state child care assistance. The legislation is intended to avoid a sudden dropoff of assistance if a parent receives a salary increase, known as the “cliff effect.” A similar bill passed the House in 2020. The bill passed again, 94-0.
  • House File 301: Creates a state matching grant program to communities that fund the child care WAGE$ Iowa program that supplements educator salaries, or other programs to support and retain teachers. A similar bill passed the House in 2020. The 2021 bill passed 92-2.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.