2021 Legislature Convenes with Focus on COVID-19 Relief
This week marks the beginning of the 2021 Iowa Legislative Session at the State Capitol. The first order of business will be working on a COVID package that will focus on long-term recovery efforts to get our economy rolling again. An aggressive plan to help families recover, get kids back in school safely, reopening small businesses, keeping operating small businesses open, as well as, protecting workers, especially those on the front-lines.
Making sure the Iowa Legislature is transparent and open to the public will also be important heading into this session. Despite the pandemic, Iowans who are uncomfortable participating in-person, can take part in the legislative process by logging on to legis.iowa.gov to watch debate, committee meetings, and subcommittee meetings.
The 2021 State Legislature runs 110 days and will end April 30, 2021.
2021 Legislative Survey
In an effort to learn about what’s important to Iowans, lawmakers are requesting Iowans participate in a brief survey. To complete the survey and share your views click here.
Governor Announces Initial Budget Proposal
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on in the state and has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 Iowans, Governor Kim Reynolds released her initial budget proposal this week in the Condition of the State address. While the Governor announced multiple new spending programs and priorities, the lack of a comprehensive plan to get the pandemic under control was noticed by many.
Some of the announced plans should receive bi-partisan support, such as increased broadband funding and increased community college funding. Many of the proposals announced in the Governor’s address left Iowans with more questions than answers.
A plan to require school districts to provide full time in-person learning options lacked any specifics about how to keep students and teachers safe. All parents and teachers want kids in school but it must be done in a safe and responsive manner. The funding levels recommended for our public schools will also not be adequate to address the many challenges our schools are facing from the pandemic, especially when the proposal to take money away from public schools and give to private schools.
The Governor also seemed to put a higher priority in her budget on a new state computer system rather than addressing the ongoing mental health crisis. She announced a plan to make it easier for tax cuts for the rich to go into effect, leaving many working Iowans behind.
The overall budget spends an additional $289.5 million more than it did in the previous year. The Governor’s announced budget plan is just the first step in the budget process as both the House and Senate will release their budget targets later in the legislative session.
Federal PPP Loans Available to Help Iowa Small Businesses
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been reauthorized by the United States Congress through March 31, 2021. The PPP is a forgivable loan program for small businesses to use to pay for payroll and other businesses expenses. The bill expands the program and allows businesses to use the loan to pay additional items including personal protective equipment and software for human resources and accounting needs.
To promote access to smaller lenders, businesses can now apply for a PPP loan at participating community financial institutions which include Community Development Financial Institutions, Minority Depository Institutions, Certified Development Companies, and Microloan Intermediaries. In the coming days all participating lending institutions will be accepting applications.
More information for businesses, participating lending institutions, and the application can be found on the Small Business Association’s website, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program-0.
Iowa Consumers be Alert for COVID Stimulus & Vaccine Scams
The Iowa Attorney General’s office issued the following advisory to Iowans warning COVID relief checks and vaccination scams:
COVID Stimulus: Iowa consumers may receive a second round of stimulus money in early January after Congress passes a new COVID relief package. However, some details may cause confusion and lead to fraud or other problems. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reminds Americans to remember:
- No government agency will ask for upfront payment to receive a stimulus check.
- The government will not call, text, email, or contact on social media to request Social Security, bank account, or credit card information.
- Individuals may not receive money earlier or faster through third parties. The money will arrive only via direct deposit, paper check, or an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) debit cards.
Vaccines: Several scams have been reported involving COVID vaccines. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warns other potentially fraudulent activity indicators include:
- Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine;
- Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of vaccines in exchange for payment or fee;
- Unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact information from individuals claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID vaccine center requesting personal information to determine recipient’s eligibility to obtain the vaccine;
- Claims of FDA approval for vaccines that are unverified;
- Advertisements for vaccines through social media, emails, phone calls, online, or from unknown sources;
- Individuals contacting via phone or email claiming the government or government officials are requiring COVID vaccinations.
Iowans who believe they are victims of COVID fraud may report to the FBI (ic3.gov, tips.fbi.gov, or 1-800-CALL-FBI) or Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General (tips.hhs.gov or 1-800-HHS-TIPS). Iowans may also file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division here or call (515) 281-5926.
Other Iowa News
IOWA ARTS EDUCATION DATA PROJECT: Through the Department of Education, Iowa has developed the Arts Education Data Project. It provides a snapshot on arts education classes (including music, visual arts, theater, dance and other). Iowa is one of 29 states to establish or in the process of developing an Arts Education Data Dashboard website. It allows you to see an overview of how Iowa overall, and a school district, compares in these areas in the percent of students involved in the arts. It provides compelling snapshots of fine arts education access and opportunities across Iowa. Click here to view the dashboard: https://educateiowa.gov/iowa-arts-education-data-project-dashboard
POLLUTION PREVENTION PROGRAM HELPS IOWA COMPANIES ACHIEVE RESULTS: Project requests are currently being accepted for the 2021 Pollution Prevention Intern Program for the summer of 2021. The program places top engineering students with facilities that are looking for ways to eliminate waste and improve environmental performance to save money. The program focuses on identifying waste and inefficiencies and stopping the cause to improve costs, quality control, and waste disposal. Since 2001, Iowa companies have saved more than $109 million through the program. Environmental savings include 95 billion gallons of water, almost 10,000 tons of hazardous waste, over 255,000 tons of solid waste, and nearly 100 million kWh of energy. In addition to the intern, the P2 Services team also provides targeted assessments and technical resources at no additional cost and two annual environmental workshops. Project request forms can be found at: http://www.iowap2interns.com or contact P2Services@dnr.iow.gov.