There are two programs in Iowa that subsidize childcare for working parents with low incomes. But, according to a report released Tuesday by the Iowa Policy Project (IPP), only five-percent of program participants use childcare assistance to pursue higher education.
IPP Research Director Peter Fisher says that’s a problem, because if those parents could go to school, they could seek higher paying jobs to support their families. “Just having a high school degree, your peak earning years are not going to top out above $35,000 a year, which isn’t much to support a family,” Fisher says. Changing a few rules would more easily allow parents to take advantage of the programs, according to Fisher.
He says case workers tend to push clients towards working instead of going to school, because of federal work participation goals. Also, part time students must work at least 28 hours a week, a requirement Fisher argues is too high. “There are a number of barriers to using child care assistance to get post secondary education…which means it’s a program to allow people to engage in low wage work, but not really to get ahead in the long run,” Fisher says.
In addition, the IPP study claims the program’s reimbursement rate is so low, it can be hard for parents to find a child care provider. Changing the rules would mean passing legislation in Des Moines and Fisher says it’s an issue advocacy organizations will be pushing in this year’s legislative session. Fisher says making it easier for parents to seek degrees would pay off in the long run, because their higher earnings would come back to the state in the form of taxes.