Finkenauer Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Expand Federal Aid to Address America’s Childcare Crisis

July 20, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) on Monday introduced the bipartisan Affordable Child Care for Economic Strategies and Success (ACCESS) Act to allow federal economic development grants to be used for improving the accessibility of affordable, quality of childcare.

The bipartisan legislation is co-led in the House by Congressman Jim Hagedorn (R-MN). Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) is sponsoring companion legislation in the Senate.

The ACCESS Act will make U.S. Department of Commerce grants available to local governments, community planning and development organizations and public-private partnerships seeking to increase access to childcare as part of a broader economic development strategy. Communities could use the funds to invest in childcare infrastructure and develop long-term regional strategies for driving economic growth through improved access to affordable childcare.

"I’ve heard from Iowa businesses again and again about how childcare is one of the biggest challenges they have when it comes to recruiting and retaining talented employees,” Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer said. "As we strive to address and recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we must be planning for long-term economic growth. Now more than ever, high-quality, affordable childcare for hard-working families is essential to unlocking economic opportunity and growth."

"I want to thank Congressman Hagedorn and Senator Ernst for recognizing that high-quality, affordable childcare is not a partisan issue, but one that we can agree on and advance together to help families across Iowa and across the country," Finkenauer said.

"When parents can’t access child care, there’s a ripple effect in the economy. Iowa has been struggling with a child care crisis for too long, and we need to continue to find ways to address the needs of our parents," Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) said. "By encouraging public-private partnerships to expand access to child care, this legislation would provide more opportunities for Iowa families and help our state’s economy grow."

"For too long, parents in southern Minnesota and across America have been burdened with high costs for preschools, long waitlists and few options for childcare services,” Congressman Jim Hagedorn (R-MN) said. "This legislation is a major step in the right direction to incentivizing and expanding investments in childcare facilities that will increase competition, spur growth and increase access to affordable childcare over the long haul."

The ACCESS Act creates new eligibility under certain Economic Development Administration grants, including the Public Works program, which could be used to fund qualifying infrastructure projects that would directly or indirectly improve access to affordable, quality childcare. 

It also directs the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to issue guidance on how to address and incorporate access to childcare as part of a comprehensive economic development strategy. The bill also opens up existing technical assistance and planning grants to support economic development strategies and projects for communities and public-private partnerships that want to improve the accessibility of affordable, quality childcare as a way to spur economic growth.

The ACCESS Act is endorsed by First Five Years Fund,  Black Hawk County Child Care Coalition, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Dubuque Chamber of Commerce, Exceptional Persons, Inc. (Child Care Resource and Referral of NE Iowa host agency), Grow Cedar Valley,  Jackson County Economic Alliance, and Save the Children Action Network (SCAN).

"The ACCESS Act will allow communities in rural and urban settings to access financial support to expand child care availability. This bill also demonstrates child care is an economic driver for communities across the United States."

— Dan Levi of the Black Hawk Child Care Coalition

"Child care challenges have only intensified for our members and their employees in the new coronavirus reality. It is clear it is going to take a multi-pronged approach to solve the challenges, and we appreciate Rep. Finkenauer and Sen. Ernst’s effort to bring forth this component to improve child care accessibility."

Jamie Toledo, Regional Programs Strategist, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance

"The Dubuque Chamber is happy to support the ACCESS Act.  The Chamber realizes the importance that quality and affordable childcare has for supporting a healthy and robust workforce.  Many wonderful and legend companies have lost excellent candidates due to the lack of childcare in our area.  By supporting the ACCESS Act, our community would be better suited for a talented and diverse workforce by adding childcare excellence and access as a highly required tool in the workforce retention and recruitment toolbox."

Barry Gentry, Senior Vice President of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce

"Exceptional Persons Inc. (Child Care Resource and Referral of NE Iowa host agency) supports the ACCESS Act. We believe child care is an economic driver in our communities. This bill will provide support to communities as they plan for economic development.  With this support, communities will only grow and thrive."

— Mary Janssen, Children and Family Services Director of Exceptional Persons, Inc.

"Access to child care will be critical for the economic development and recovery of so many communities across the country, especially in communities where the availability of child care was already sparse and only made worse by the COVID crisis forcing child care providers to close. Without care, parents will be unable to return to work and businesses and communities will struggle. Innovative solutions to address the growing child care desert crisis across the country are necessary, and we are grateful to Representative Finkenauer for introducing the ACCESS Act to give communities the flexibility and resources they need to solve the child care challenges they face. FFYF looks forward to continue working with child care champions in Congress to ensure every child has access to high-quality early learning and care."

— First Five Years Fund (FFYF) Executive Director Sarah Rittling

"This bill is right in line with one of our highest priorities, the access to childcare. This is one of the issues that we are regularly addressing with our business community, as the lack of access to affordable childcare greatly impacts our workforce.  We applaud Rep. Finkenauer for raising this issue through the introduction of the ACCESS Act.

— Cary Darrah, President and CEO of Grow Cedar Valley

"I support Representative Finkenauer’s ACCESS Act, as it seeks to support access to quality and affordable childcare. Childcare is integral community infrastructure, and in rural communities the sustainability of employers and the towns themselves rest on this institution. This bill highlights the importance of access to childcare to the economy, and provides incentives to spur private investment in expanding childcare."

— Nic Hockenberry, Director of the Jackson County Economic Alliance

"The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how critical child care is to a well-functioning economy. Now more than ever, we must ensure that high-quality child care is accessible and affordable so that all parents can return to their offices when it’s safe to do so. That’s why Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) applauds Congresswoman Finkenauer for introducing the ACCESS Act, which will improve access to quality and affordable child care. This is a great first step towards economic recovery and towards ensuring a better and brighter future for Iowa’s kids. As a member of the House Small Business Committee, Finkenauer is a strong advocate for affordable and quality childcare options and hardworking Iowa families. She has led numerous efforts to address the crisis and ensure Iowans’ voices are being heard in Congress."

— E.J. Wallace, Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) Iowa State Manager

Some of Finkenauer’s work includes:

  • Introducing the bipartisan COACH Act to create an easy-to-access federal resource guide to help childcare providers start and grow their small businesses.
  • Introducing the Child Care is Essential Act to improve childcare options for Iowans and ensure providers have the resources to weather the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Leading ahearing on the importance of improving access to affordable and quality childcare. Video of the hearing is available here.
  • Joining several members of the Small Business Committee in introducing the bipartisan Small Business Child Care Investment Act.
  • Introducing R 3986, the Child Care Protection Improvement Act of 2019, to improve the completion of background checks for childcare providers who receive funding through  the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and supported the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act, which addresses the shortage of affordable, quality childcare through competitive grants to states.