Voter Suppression Bill Introduced in the Legislature
Instead of working together to help Iowans recover from the pandemic, Republican lawmakers are set to fast-track a new voter suppression bill.
After both record turnout and a safe, secure election in 2020, the bill will make it more difficult for Iowans to vote, especially for seniors and those with disabilities.
The House and Senate are both moving quickly on similar bills that will shorten the early voting time down to 18 days in Iowa, which is the second time in just the last two years it will be shortened. Iowa voters used to have one of the longest early voting periods in the country and with this bill it will have some of the shortest. The legislation, House File 590, will make it harder for all Iowans to return their absentee ballot but especially older Iowans, by limiting the people who can help a person return a ballot.
The legislation will also make it easier to cancel voter registrations of people who forget to vote in a single general election. It will also hinder locally-elected election officials by enforcing stipulations that will make it harder to vote. If local officials disagree or fail to perform certain jobs they could end up in prison for five years.
Even though the Homeland Security committees tasked with safeguarding the election called the 2020 general election “the most secure in American history,” majority party leaders continue to attack the voters in Iowa.
Iowa has a safe and fair election process. The last person to commit in-person voter fraud in Iowa was caught after having voted for former President Trump twice.
Public Hearing Scheduled on Voter Suppression Bill
A public hearing has been scheduled for Monday, February 22, 2021 at 5pm at the Statehouse. You can sign-up to participate in-person or leave a comment here.
Addressing Health Care in Rural Iowa
Rural Iowa continues to see loss of access to healthcare services. To remedy this, lawmakers passed legislation to help with access across the state by expanding the Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program. This program targets refinancing of student loans for doctors if they agree to practice in rural areas. Senate File 129, which passed both the House and Senate overwhelmingly, adds the specialties of obstetrics and gynecology as an area of specialization that qualifies for loan repayment.
The specialty of obstetrics and gynecology is crucial in our state because access to OB-GYN healthcare in Iowa is drastically low, and there has been an increase in maternal mortality rates. In 2018 alone, eight labor and delivery units have closed across the state and in the past few years, maternal mortality has more than doubled. Infant mortality has also continued on an upward trend. In order to address these issues, Iowans need access to quality healthcare. This bill takes a small step in that direction.
Special Enrollment Health Care Period Begins for Iowans
Iowans now can purchase or change their Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual health coverage until May 15, 2021. Premium assistance in the form of tax credits is available for households with qualifying income levels. The special enrollment period will give Iowans who were economically impacted by the pandemic another opportunity to access affordable, comprehensive health coverage. Iowans may call 1-800-318-2596 or visit healthcare.gov for information regarding enrollment and to calculate applicable tax credits. Iowans can find local help by visiting localhelp.HealthCare.gov/.
Proposal to Provide Tax Relief to Unemployed Iowans Due to the Pandemic
Due to COVID-19, more than 322,000 Iowans have lost their paychecks and now rely on unemployment insurance benefits to put food on the table, pay rent, utilities, and other expenses. In response, Democratic lawmakers in the Iowa House and Senate are working on a bill that exempts the first $10,200 of unemployment payments from Iowa income taxes. People who have received unemployment payments in 2020 would not have to pay Iowa state income taxes on the first $10,200 if the bill becomes law.
Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne has introduced legislation in the U.S. House to exempt the first $10,200 of unemployment payments from federal income taxes. This tax relief to unemployed Iowans will go directly back into the economy as this relief pays for living expenses of these families.
Update on Delayed Unemployment
Payments Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) started implementing the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefit extension program on February 16th. People who have qualified for PEUC extended benefits will see deposits within 5-7 business days of February 16th. Iowans will receive retroactive payments but not everyone will receive that pay with their first payment. IWD started paying PUA extended benefits on February 17th. More information on unemployment benefits can be found on IWD’s website, iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/.
Time to Step Up COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out
After Governor Reynolds lifted all mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID last week, it’s more important than ever to step up the vaccine rollout to all Iowans. President Biden’s Administration has announced they are more than doubling the COVID-19 vaccines sent to Iowa each week and has pledged that 150 million Americans will be vaccinated in 100 days.
Residents across the state of Iowa are continuing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As of the middle of this week, over 496,981 doses have been administered, and over 125,558 series have been completed (residents who have already received both doses).
Doses are still being administered to the Phase 1B category. This group includes:
- Persons age 65 and older
- PK-12 school staff, early education and childcare workers
- First responders (firefighters, police officers, child welfare social workers)
If you have general questions about the vaccine, call 211. Resource specialists are available 24 hours a day to answer basic questions. Check with your health care provider with questions specific to your health situation.
Seniors can call their local Area Agency on Aging at 1-866-468-7887, Monday-Friday 8:00am-4:30pm for vaccine information, however they cannot schedule an appointment for you and they are not administering vaccines.
The pharmacies listed below are scheduling vaccine appointments for Iowans age 65 and older. You can also go to coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/vaccineinformation to find a location near you.
- Iowa Pharmacies will also be scheduling appointments:
- Hy-Vee: hy-vee.com/my-pharmacy/covid-vaccine
- Walgreens (Black Hawk, Cerro Gordo, Des Moines, Dubuque, Johnson, Linn, Pottawattamie, Scott, and Woodbury Counties) walgreens.com/findcare/vaccination/covid-19?ban=covid_vaccine_landing_schedule
- CVS (Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn, or Polk County) cvs.com/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine
Other Iowa News
LAST-DOLLAR SCHOLARSHIP HELPS STUDENTS: The Last-Dollar Scholarship covers tuition and qualified fees for post-secondary credentials up to two-year degrees. Recent high school graduates typically must enroll full-time in programs of study that lead to designated high-demand jobs in fields like health care and biosciences, advanced manufacturing, agriculture and information technology. Soon, recent high school graduates in approved work-based learning programs, like Registered Apprenticeships, will be able to attend part-time. All 15 Iowa community colleges and two private colleges participate in the Last-Dollar Scholarship program, and all 99 counties have recipients. The Last-Dollar Scholarship helped more than 6,500 Iowa students during the 2019-2020 school year, and an average of $2,200 was provided to each student. Students are encouraged to review the list of community college programs that train for high-demand careers and to file the FAFSA early to start the eligibility process for Last-Dollar Scholarship. For more information, visit IowaCollegeAid.gov/LastDollar.
UTILITY TIPS FOR IOWANS TO KEEP WARM DURING FREEZING TEMPS: This month, Iowans have been experiencing frigid temperatures that could potentially set a new historic record with some areas trending 18 degrees below average. Iowa’s major utilities are encouraging homeowners with natural gas heating systems to reduce usage as supply is limited due to frozen wells in the southern US. While most major utility companies project sufficient supply to meet natural gas and electric customer’s needs, some rural electric cooperatives are notifying customers of potential rolling blackouts throughout the week. Frigid temperatures are creating extreme high demand and power is rationed by shutting down one substation for 45 minutes with members temporarily being out of power. Blackouts controlled by the power supplier are usually during peak usage times between 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Customers are encouraged to reduce electric consumption during these periods by delaying nonessential power use. All Iowans are encouraged to prepare for temporary loss of power during these cold temperatures similarly to storm-related outage. Always have flashlights handy, an extra layer of clothes ready, and conserve heat by limiting outside trips.