Ernst visits Little Rebels

Sen. Joni Ernst (right) tours the Little Rebels Learning Center in Reinbeck on April 1 as part of a visit to the southern Grundy County community. Center director Robin Moor (left) spoke to Ernst during the tour about the successes the center has had in partnering with stakeholders in the community and the challenges it faces finding and maintaining a workforce. Darvin Graham/Sun Courier

In the course of one month the Little Rebels Learning Center (LRLC) in Reinbeck has been the host for visits by two of Iowa’s most influential law makers.

Shortly after Gov. Reynolds announced the formation of a state childcare task force on March 10, she came to Reinbeck to tour the Little Rebels center and meet with city and school leaders for a discussion about the childcare needs in the area and some of the successes LRLC has experienced through the past several years of development and expansion.

On April 1 Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, made a midday stop in Reinbeck where she first held a meeting with officials at Lincoln Savings Bank before heading to the childcare center to take a tour of the facility.

“We wanted to see an example of how a community looked at the needs that they had, and then were able to partner with businesses within the school system and with private funding to make (something) happen,” Ernst said.

During the most recent building expansion the LRLC split the building costs evenly three ways. The Gladbrook-Reinbeck school and the city of Reinbeck each committed $180,000 to the project while the center committed to an additional $180,000 that was raised through fundraising efforts and grants.

The daycare center has been a crucial piece of infrastructure for the Reinbeck as it employs 41 individuals with 145 kids attending.

Following the tour, Ernst took questions from reporters and spoke about childcare support efforts she’s participating in at the federal level.

“I’ve been spearheading a number of different bills, even pre-COVID, because Iowa has been a childcare desert. There’s a number of bipartisan efforts that we have. One is with Jacky Rosen, a Democrat from Nevada, and it would allow non-profits to be able to access SBA low-interest loans. Right now they are prohibited from accessing that capital and a lot of churches or non-profits need that opportunity. And that’s what we find in our rural areas, largely are those non-profits.”

Ernst said some of the childcare measures have progressed and were completed within prior COVID relief packages. Previously passed supports included childcare subsidies for low income families and funding for staff training and personal protective equipment.

Ernst highlighted a childcare savings bill the she and Rep. Cindy Axne, IA-3, have sponsored called the Improving Child Care for Working Families Act.

The bill proposes a permanent increase to the amount families would be able to contribute to dependent care assistance plans (DCAPs) from $5,000 to $10,500.

The DCAP accounts are similar to flex spending accounts some employers use to offer a healthcare savings option for employees that is not taxed. The difference being that DCAPs allow employees to use the pre-tax dollars on childcare expenses.

The current DCAP contribution limit of $5,000 has been in place since 1986 and is viewed by some as out of sync with the rising cost of childcare.

However, the permanent contribution limit, set at $5,000, has not changed since the Internal Revenue Service first set it in 1986. A 2018 cost-of-living study by the United Ways of Iowa reported that the statewide average cost of childcare ranged from $859 to $1,315.

Demand at LRLC has been steady with the center holding a current waiting list of 14 kids not including an additional 10 babies that will be born in the coming year and are expected to attend the center.

Operation costs for the center have continued to rise in recent years, primarily due to the cost of benefits and compensation necessary to retain a stable workforce. LRLC families have, in turn, seen rate increases that were required in 2018 and in 2020.