When the session began, House Democrats outlined our priorities this session and they were all focused on building a strong middle class from the ground up. With the 2014 session coming to a close and our focus turning to the budget, there are some opportunities in the next few weeks to give middle class families a boost in the short term.
One proposal will make it easier for parents to work and go to the school at the same time so they can upgrade their skills and land a good-paying job. Right now, the state offers child care assistance for working parents also going to school but the rigid requirements make it difficult for many families to qualify.
Democrats want to expand the program statewide, but Republicans want to expand child care assistance in just four of Iowa’s 99 counties. If hard-working parents want to work and attend school to get a better job, we should do all we can to help them. It shouldn’t matter where they live.
Another idea we should pass this year is expanding the child and dependent care tax credit. Since Iowa has one of the highest rates of two-parent working families in the country, the cost of child care is putting a big strain on too many families. By expanding the credit, it will put more money in the pockets of working families who have kids and are trying to make ends meet.
We should also expand job training opportunities for workers with tuition grants at our local community colleges. The reality is many of the skilled jobs in Iowa don’t require a four year degree but do require some training after high school. These skilled jobs will boost wages and grow the middle class.
These are common sense ideas that will make an impact quickly and should have strong bi-partisan support this year.
There are also several long-term ideas we should approve this year before we adjourn. It starts with expanding early childhood education so every child enters kindergarten ready to learn. This has long been a priority of Iowa businesses and educators who all understand it’s a wise investment for our workforce.
We should set funding for our public schools as required by law this year, so our local school leaders have time to plan and enact meaningful multi-year strategies to improve student achievement. It’s also essential that we work together and keep higher education affordable for every family.
The last decade has been tough on the middle class. Hard working families have seen wages stagnate while costs for essentials like heat, food, and health care have been rising.
We can’t afford to wait another year. We should take action on these ideas before we adjourn this year. Iowa families have been waiting long enough.