While this pandemic has challenged all Iowans, as our state begins to take the first steps toward safely reopening, I’m continuing to push for support for our families in every stage of life—from new parents to our seniors.
After local businesses needed to close down to adhere to social distancing and public health measures in order to keep folks safe, tragically so many Iowans, including parents, have been facing layoffs and pay cuts. At the same time, reports show increased diaper shortages right here in Iowa. As a result, finding access to diaper assistance continues to be a challenge for new parents, especially lower-income families and essential, front line workers.
That’s why I’ve teamed up with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut to urge the Senate to bolster diaper assistance for our families. Having access to these services is especially imperative for our essential workers with critical daily responsibilities, so they don’t face any barriers in accessing daycare or child care facilities.
As part of the CARES Act, we included a provision to provide parents an additional $500 indirect financial assistance per child – on top of the $1,200 direct payment. But right now, for new parents—those who are welcoming newborns this year during COVID-19—they won’t see that money until 2021, when they get their tax return next year. That just doesn’t make sense. These new parents, at such an important time in their lives, need this assistance now—not a year from now. So, I’ve partnered with my Democratic colleague and neighbor from Illinois, Senator Tammy Duckworth, to help make a simple fix to ensure Iowa families get this vital support right away.
Iowa’s families know that access to child care has been an ongoing struggle in our state, even before COVID-19. It truly continues to be a crisis. In fact, it is one of the most common concerns I hear about from parents, especially in rural areas, when I’m out and about on my 99 County Tour or hosting a telephone town hall with Iowans. And folks, the unfortunate reality is that this pandemic has only made the problem worse.
That’s why I’ve continued to make finding solutions to our child care crisis a top priority. As a part of the CARES Act, I helped secure nearly $32 million in funding for Iowa to support access to child care and child care professionals through what’s called the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. And while that was certainly welcome news, the fight for our working families and child care workers is not over. It’s the reason I’m leading a bipartisan effort to secure additional funding for child care in the next COVID-19 relief package. This is something that’s vitally important for the health and safety of our kiddos and will help ease the burden for our moms and dads.
While this pandemic has impacted our parents, newborn babies, and children, we know that it’s been especially difficult for the elderly and those most at-risk. And oftentimes it’s our family caregivers who play a critical role in supporting our seniors and older Iowans.
As you might remember, I’ve been focused on this issue for some time. My bipartisan Credit for Caring Act—something I’m working on with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—would provide working family caregivers with a tax credit of up to $3,000 to assist with out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving. While family caregiver shortages existed prior to the onset of COVID-19, this current crisis is only amplifying the critical work they do to support the daily needs of those who may be at greater risk to this virus and who require greater support at home.
This pandemic has led to more family members taking on important caregiver roles as they provide for their loved ones, while also managing financial strains and economic uncertainty. So, I’m calling on the Senate to include, at a minimum, a modified or temporary version of my bipartisan legislation into our next relief package to help address the financial challenges caregivers are experiencing during this pandemic. I’m really pleased to have the support of AARP Iowa in this effort to support our caregivers and help those family members who take up such important responsibilities to care for Iowa’s seniors and our elderly community. Additionally, I believe these caregivers should be able to receive the additional $500 direct payments provided through the CARES Act.
As we work to defeat COVID-19, we’re doing it together: with Democrats and Republicans; with partners at the federal, state, and local levels; and with the help of every Iowan doing his or her part. For Iowa’s families – from those with newborns to our seniors—I’ll continue fighting for you and working to get you the support you need, especially during these challenging days.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.
Photo: “Joni Ernst” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Gage Skidmore