Build Back Iowa COVID Recovery Plan
Details on Proposed Plan Released
With many Iowans still experiencing hardships, this week House Democratic lawmakers released the Build Back Iowa plan to provide relief and help Iowans recover from the pandemic. The legislative package is focused on getting kids back to school safely, helping small businesses recover/reopen, supporting Iowa families, and making the state government more accountable and transparent.
The lawmakers developed the plan to get Iowa’s economy rolling again and keep the Legislature focused on long-term COVID recovery efforts.
Details of the plan include the following:
Kids Back to Schools Safely
- Give schools tools to get kids back to school safely
- Student Pandemic Recovery Grants available for the next three years to students at public schools; $200 million available for efforts like mental health, academic support, or before/after school care
Support Iowa Families
- Food security for every family
- Homeowner or rental assistance for 15,000 Iowans and extend prohibition on evictions until 2022
- Pandemic assistance for child care to families and providers
- Grants to open new licensed child care centers and financial support to keep current centers open
- Expand eligibility and support for Child Care Assistance (CCA)
- End cliff effect for child/dependent care tax credit
- Tax credit for small business that provide child care
Open/Reopen Small Businesses
- Expand eligibility and help another 5,000 small businesses stay open/reopen with $100 million for Iowa Small Business Relief Grant program
Protecting Iowans from COVID
- Make telehealth parity permanent for mental and physical health
- Free COVID testing and vaccine available in all 99 counties
Accountability & Transparency
- Protecting workers on the front lines while holding bad actors accountable
- Transparency and accountability of taxpayer dollars spent on COVID response and recovery
COVID-19 Vaccination Update
Residents across the state of Iowa are continuing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 1/20/21, over 156,000 doses have been administered while over 16,000 Iowans have received both doses and completed the vaccination series.
Doses are currently being administered to people in the Phase 1A category; healthcare professionals and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. According to the Iowa Dept. of Public Health, people in the Phase 1B category will start receiving the vaccine next month. Priority populations include persons aged 65 years and over. OR, the following populations vulnerable to high risk of exposure or severity of illness (listed in order of priority):
- First Responders
- PK-12 staff, early childhood education, childcare workers
- Frontline essential workers in food, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors who live or work in non-social distanced settings
- Individuals with disabilities living in home settings and their direct care staff
- Staff and individuals living in congregate settings not covered by previous Phase or Tier
- Government officials, including staff, engaged in business at the State Capitol
- Inspectors responsible for health, life and safety
- Correctional facility staff and individuals incarcerated
Details on who will be eligible as well as the timeline for the Phase 1 group is expected to be released shortly. To view the current vaccination data, please visit: https://coronavirus.iowa.gov.
Iowa Chief Justice Reviews Court Work on COVID, Families
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen provided the annual Condition of the Judiciary to the Iowa Legislature.
Chief Justice Christensen discussed the court’s struggles dealing with COVID-19. On March 14th of last year, a small group of judicial branch employees met to figure out how to deal with the pandemic. The Judicial Branch decided to stop holding in-person trials and did not hold trials in-person again until September. Even after restarting jury trials, the court again suspended in-person court proceedings soon after restarting because of an uptick in cases statewide and will not restart until February 1st.
The Judicial Branch has implemented a number of initiatives to assure that Iowan’s still have access to justice and to figure out how and when to restart regular work. The Jumpstart Jury Trial Task Force was organized to prepare a plan for how to return to work.
Courtrooms have been made ready with masks, socially distanced seating, and plexiglass barriers where needed. A second task force, the Jump Start Family Law Trial Task Force, was started specifically to figure out how to handle family law judicial branch cases.
The Chief Justice made clear that once the courts have figured out how to deal with COVID that child welfare will be one of her main priorities. The Judicial Branch started the Families First program to provide access to services to family sooner in the court process. In addition, the State Public Defender started a pilot project to provide legal representation to families before a juvenile case is filed to provide help before a child is removed from the home.
Chief Justice Christensen vowed to elevate Family Treatment Courts in the state. The courts combine judicial branch employees with child welfare and substance abuse professionals to address the underlying problems of many families. There are currently 12 family courts in the state, but those courts are scattered around the state. These courts help keep families together and save the state money by providing help before the criminal justice system has to get involved.
Addressing racial justice issues was also addressed by the Chief Justice. Chief Justice Christensen noted that over the last six years the Judicial Branch has implemented initiatives to eliminate discriminatory behavior, including implicit bias training for all Judicial Branch employees. The courts are also starting a two-year pilot project to mitigate implicit bias related to race, gender, and other protected classes.
Judicial Nominating Commission
The justice system in the state has undergone some significant changes and debates in recent years. The last General Assembly made significant changes to how judges are chosen in the state. Iowa’s well regarded, nonpartisan system was replaced with a system that gives the Governor more power in hand picking only judges approved by her.
Felon Voting Rights
In 2020, Iowa was the only state remaining that permanently prevents felons from having a path to regain their voting rights. Despite many attempts by House Democrats to restore felons voting rights, Governor Reynolds signed an executive order that restored voting rights for felons in the state immediately. While providing immediate relief, the governor’s order could be rescinded at any time and felons would no longer have a path to have their rights restored, as happened when then Governor Branstad rescinded an order signed by Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack.
It is estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 Iowans were unable to vote in Iowa because of a prior criminal conviction.
Iowa COVID Testing Among Lowest Rate in Nation
Iowans tracking the number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 have had some good news over the last two weeks as both cases and deaths are down. While this is encouraging news, it is important to sometimes look deeper.
Iowa currently has the 48th lowest testing rate for COVID-19 in the nation over the last week. In that same time period, Iowa has the second highest positivity rate in the country with 1/3 of tests coming back positive. Currently, California has the highest testing rate, Vermont and Hawaii have the lowest positivity rate in the country over the same time period, according to the Washington Post.
As of this article over 300,000 Iowans have tested positive for the Coronavirus and over 4,300 Iowans have lost their life to the disease.
Criminal Justice Bill Attempts to Reduce State Recidivism
This week, a Public Safety subcommittee gathered to discuss and consider criminal justice probation reform. HSB 6 would allow rehabilitating Iowans to enter into a payment plan and create incentives to reduce or terminate their remaining probation term. Iowans who are compliant with their probation conditions would not be barred from obtaining a driver’s license due to non-payment, which would help alleviate current obstacles when re-entering society.
Iowa’s current recidivism rate is 39.8% per the state’s Department of Corrections. This bill attempts to reduce the state’s very high rate by providing Iowans access to support, resources, and skills to successfully maintain their reentry into society.
HSB 6 may advance for full Public Safety Committee consideration next week.
Other Iowa News
HELP FOR SMALL BUSINESS: Congress has reauthorized the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) 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 (PPE) and software for human resources and accounting needs. First and second draw PPP loans are now available through hundreds of lenders across the state. For more information and to find a lender visit, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.
VOTERS CHANGE REGISTRATION AFTER CAPITAL INSURRECTION: While the armed insurrection that took place weeks ago may have been in Washington, DC the effects are being felt across the state in unsuspecting ways. According to one county auditor, reports of approximately 1,300 voters who were registered Republicans have changed their party affiliation. Beyond changing party affiliation, some voters have asked to cancel their voter registration. According to the most recent voter registration information from the Secretary of State 2,124,895 active registered voters in Iowa, including 700,430 Democrats, 727,977 Republicans, and 678,188 No Party voters.
HUNTER EDUCATION AND OUTDOOR SKILLS WEBSITE: The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a new website that streamlines the process for signing up for hunting and other outdoor classes. The new website allows people to sign up for hunter education classes, hunter education field days, boater education classes, learn to hunt/trap/shoot workshops, mentored opportunities, general outdoor skills workshops, and more. Hunting education classes fill up quickly so the DNR is encouraging people to sign up early. To find a class visit, https://events.gooutdoorsiowa.com.
NUMBER OF ENGLISH LEARNERS HAS INCREASED: Over the last 20 years, the number of English Language Learners (ELL) students in Iowa has nearly tripled. In the school aid formula, ELL students gain additional weight or funding. The major increases in ELL weightings have primarily come from school districts with more than 7,500 students enrolled. Districts with enrollment between 2,500 and 6,999 also experienced growth in ELL weightings. In 2018, the DE submitted a required report detailing the top 25 school districts with the largest number of students identified as limited English proficient. That report can be found at www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/DF/914782.pdf. One of the items mentioned in that report is not only the number of ELL students, but the diversity of languages that schools have to handle. Additional weighting for school districts only goes so far, and districts are allowed to request a modified supplemental amount (MSA) for any excess costs in educating ELL students. According to Fiscal Services, between 2015 and 2019, the MSA amounts approved for excess costs related to ELL students has increased by 81.1%.