What Des Moines is missing for young professionals

This piece originally appeared in the Des Moines Register.

I shouldn’t have put that fancy baby monitor on my baby registry. Or the cute rocking moose. Or the adorable screen-printed onesie that my kid would wear once. I should have registered for child care. But that’s not a thing you can point the Target scanner at, is it?

Nobody interrupted my baby shower games to warn that while my toddler and infant are both in child care, I’ll be spending essentially what it would cost to buy a brand new washer and dryer set every single month. (We currently spend about $370 per week on child care for our two kids, who are seven months and 3 years old. That’s $18,500 a year on a 50-week schedule.)

I know I’m not alone — and that I’ve got it relatively easy. Because while that amount means I’m not getting in line for Civic Center season tickets for the next five years, we’re still able to put food on the table.

A family will pay more annually for infant care than for full-time, in-state public college tuition in 33 states and Washington, D.C., according to U.S. News & World Report, and at least for college, parents have 18 years to try to save for that expense.

Des Moines prides itself on being a top city for attracting young professionals, but we’re missing a key component to retention. We’ve built fantastic leadership pipeline programs and vibrant organizations to engage our young professionals in career and community. Yet quality, affordable child care is scarce.

When involved professionals in whom we’ve invested and promoted become parents, there is oftentimes a child care crisis. Scrambled calculations are made weighing the cost of care against career opportunities and support networks. However the math works out — either a young family or talent-hungry employer comes up short.

And that’s if Des Moines parents can find an opening they’re comfortable with. Popular programs often have a long wait list, and the recent controversy over in-home daycare limits further underscores the issue. I don’t think any parent wants to put their child in an overcrowded situation, but there are not enough full-time slots. My family had a couple of panicked weeks when we realized our son wouldn’t be getting into a nearby program this past fall.

So, how can Iowa employers better support families? This is something I think about at stoplights. The other day, I was considering the Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP), an employer-sponsored program that provides reimbursements for up to $2,500 annually ($5,000 for married couples) to employees who pay for dependent care. I wondered why that cap couldn’t be higher, to better reflect the actual cost of care.

And then I got an e-mail from the Save the Children Action Network, a group I encountered during the Iowa caucuses, alerting me of new legislation that would help more families use the DCAP and increase the benefits for these families. The Working Families Relief Act would:

  • Increase the maximum amount the employee can exclude from income to $10,500 and index for inflation;
  • Allow a tax credit for Small Employer Dependent Care Assistance Program start-up costs for employers; and
  • Provide a tax credit to employers who match Dependent Care Assistance Program contributions by employees up to $1,000.

These changes will make the DCAP more beneficial to families, less expensive for employers, and provide employers with tax benefits for offering additional assistance to their employees.

Ultimately, child care is a workforce issue as much as it is a family one. I’d love to see more Iowa employers make investments in child care centers that could help my peers in their parenting and professional roles. In the meantime, advocating for legislation like the Working Families Relief Act will send a message that we’re serious about enhancing the quality of life for the young professional continuum and keeping parents in the talent pipeline.

Brianne Sanchez was the 2015 Young Professionals Connection Amy Jennings YP Impact winner.