Increasing Costs for Higher Education
Over the last several years, the cost of education after high school has increased dramatically, and parents are feeling the pinch.
Through a combination of savings, borrowing, and putting aside some of their current paychecks, a new survey found parents are now footing about 54% of the bill for tuition, room, board and other expenses. That’s up 2% from the year before.
In Iowa, parents and students are experiencing the same increase in costs.
During the last legislative session, the GOP-controlled legislature froze state funding for Iowa’s three public universities last year. Due to a lack of state support, the Iowa Board of Regents, charged with overseeing Iowa’s three public universities, was forced to increase tuition to make up for the difference on the backs of Iowa families.
Starting this fall, for in-state residents, there is a 3.5% increase ($283 per student) at the U of I and ISU, and a $1.5% increase ($115 per student) at UNI. Tuition will also be higher for out-of-state students.
It remains to be determined if additional cuts to programs or services will be needed – despite the tuition increase placed on students and their families.
Biden Proposes 2 Years Tuition Free at Community Colleges
Under a bill proposed by President Biden, Iowa students could receive two years of community college free. With nearly every job requiring some education beyond high school, the goal is to make education after high school affordable for every Iowan.
The proposal was part of the President’s “human infrastructure” agenda, which includes: expanding the child tax credits; establishing paid family and medical leave; funding universal preschool and free community college; and furthering action on climate change.
The Biden Administration has also proposed to increase the maximum Pell Grant for students to attend college by $1,875. This would bring it to a level of $8,370 next year. This comes at a time when a report by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators says that as of September 2019, 43 million borrowers carried $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.
Biden has also proposed an amendment to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that would allow the use of Pell Grants for some programs shorter than 15 weeks, which will increase assistance to those seeking certifications to address Iowa’s skilled workforce shortage.
The President has also extended the pause on federal student loan payments until January 31, 2022.
Eviction Moratorium Extended until October 3rd
To keep Iowans impacted by COVID in their homes, the state received $195 million in January to develop the Iowa Rent and Utility Assistance Program. The program helps Iowans cover past-due rent and utility bills if they lost their job or experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic.
An investigative report found Governor Reynolds is withholding financial assistance from thousands of Iowans who may be facing eviction. National and state Democrats asked the eviction moratorium be extended for those waiting for funds in order to stay in their home.
Last week, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a new eviction moratorium for counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission of COVID-19.
Renters in counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission cannot be evicted due to lack of rent payment. If a county is upgraded to substantial or high levels of transmission, they will be added to the eviction moratorium. If a county no longer experiences substantial or high levels of community transmission for 14 consecutive days, the moratorium no longer applies. The moratorium is effective through October 3rd.
The CDC will continue to update community transmission spread and the map can be found on their website, covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.
Many Parents Decide to Have Kids Mask-up for School
With the rise in the Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.” Studies indicate that a vaccinated person can spread COVID-19 and is more likely to not show symptoms.
At the end of the 2021 session, Governor Reynolds signed a bill in the middle of the night to ban school boards and local governments from requiring masks. With school set to begin in a few weeks, many parents are concerned about the rising Delta variant spreading in schools.
However, per federal requirements, masks are required on public transportation, which includes school buses.
Investing in Broadband Grants Program Pays Off
After lawmakers approved a $100 million bipartisan broadband investment package, Iowa received 178 applications from broadband providers for the latest Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant program.
Currently, one third of Iowa’s counties are still broadband deserts and only 18.5% of Iowans have access to affordable internet plans. Thirty-five percent of Iowa households lack the “25/3” benchmark for broadband speed. During the pandemic, many Iowans struggled with critical access to reliable high-speed internet while working from home or during virtual learning.
While the bipartisan package was good progress, Iowa still ranks 45th in the nation in broadband access and the second-slowest internet speed nationwide. Though the grant program was created in 2015, majority party lawmakers never provided state funding until 2018 via a $1.3 million appropriation. The Governor’s task force has identified several consistent funding mechanisms, such as online sales tax or new gaming revenues. However, neither the Iowa House or Senate’s majority have considered using these specific funding proposals.
Prior to the pandemic, the legislature allocated only $5 million for 2019 and 2020 state broadband funding. Since the pandemic, federal relief money has been the predominant funding source that connects Iowans with essential resources. In total, $50 million in federal funding has been allocated to the OCIO for broadband grant expansion, with additional federal funds on the way.
This week, President Biden pledged Iowa would receive at least $100 million, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, for rural broadband expansion, Iowa broadband internet service cost reductions, and widespread broadband promotion. Additionally, 26% of Iowans will be eligible for a connectivity benefit, which will help low-income Iowa families afford internet access.
Iowa Democrats have long advocated for consistent and adequate broadband funding from both state and federal resources; and will continue working across the aisle to ensure homes, schools, and businesses are being fully served in all 99 counties.
American Rescue Plan Lowers Health Costs for Iowans
This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reported health care consumers are saving, on average, 40% off their monthly premiums because of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) enhanced Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax credits.
Since the implementation, 34% of new and returning consumers have found coverage for $10 or less per month on the exchange. Before ARP, Iowan’s net premium was $146. However, Iowa consumers’ average net premium after ARP is $74, which is a 49% reduction.
During the final two weeks remaining in the 2021 Special Enrollment Period (SEP), Iowans who need quality, affordable health care coverage may sign up at healthcare.gov by August 15th. Additionally, Iowans who received, or who are approved to receive unemployment compensation for any week beginning in 2021, may find lower cost plans and save extra money on out-of-pocket expenses through the exchange website due to ARP’s enhanced tax credits.
More Iowa News
VACCINE BECOMES MORE IMPORTANT AS COVID-19 DELTA VARIANT RAGES: As the COVID-19 Delta variant sweeps throughout the United States, it has shown the importance of getting vaccinated. The vaccine for COVID-19 is safe and very effective. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 99.9% of people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have not had a breakthrough case that has resulted in hospitalization or death. While there have been a few breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated people getting COVID-19, those cases have been much less severe and rarely require hospitalization. To find a location to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, please visit: coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/vaccineinformation#VaccineProviders.
NEW IOWA BIKE MAPS AVAILABLE: The 2021-2022 Iowa Bicycle Map is now available online and in a paper version. The maps show paved bike trails, unpaved bike trails, bike lanes, side paths, and paved shoulders. Trailhead parking, restrooms, water fountains, bike rentals, and bike shops are marked on the maps. The online interactive map and downloadable version can be found on the DOT’s website. Paper maps are available at all DOT driver’s license centers, rest areas, county treasurer’s offices, and can be ordered online, iowadot.gov/iowabikes/transportation-map-for-bicyclists.
NEW GUIDANCE RELEASED REGARDING COVID GRANTS FROM TAXES: Updated guidance on the taxation of qualifying COVID-19 grants was released by The Iowa Department of Revenue. Qualifying COVID-19 grants will be excluded from Iowa income and franchise tax. The exclusion was enacted by the Legislature during the 2021 Legislative Session in SF 619. The legislation excluded any qualifying COVID-19 grant issued to an individual or business by the Economic Development Authority, Iowa Finance Authority, or the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship issued between March 17, 2020, and December 31, 2021. The specific qualifying grants have been identified by the Department of Revenue and can be viewed at: legis.iowa.gov/law/administrativeRules/filing?docName=5817C.