Lawmakers Should Focus on COVID Relief
Since the session began, Iowans have been sharing their stories and struggles of life during the pandemic with their lawmakers. The need for COVID relief is apparent. Rather than prioritizing divisive issues and partisan politics, the main legislative focus must be helping Iowans get through the pandemic. This includes getting students back to school safely, helping small businesses, and focusing on reintegrating Iowans back into the workforce.
Unfortunately, two bills brought up by leaders in the Majority Party this week focused on two extreme changes to the Iowa Constitution that have nothing to do with COVID relief. One measure, House Joint Resolution 5, takes away a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. The other, House Joint Resolution 4, removes background checks and allows guns in schools, courthouses, and other public places.
Iowans want COVID recovery, not a partisan agenda. It is time to put aside divisive issues to focus on what really matters, which is helping Iowans get through this crisis.
Getting Students Back to School Safely
Getting students back to school safely is a priority for all, especially parents, teachers, and school leaders. As community spread of COVID-19 continues across Iowa, lawmakers considered a bill introduced by the Governor this week that negates current uptick in cases, and requires each school district to offer full-time, in-person instruction for every student.
While there is wide agreement that in-person learning is best, the Governor’s plan does not follow CDC recommendations designed to make sure schools all open safely or even speed up vaccinations for teachers and staff to keep them healthy.
In the Iowa Senate this week, Republican leaders are moving quickly on a controversial, wide ranging bill on public schools, which includes a new voucher plan. This piece of legislation would divert millions in taxpayer dollars from public schools and give it to private schools instead. Especially during this pandemic while schools are facing historic challenges, public money should be going to public schools.
Time to Make Child Care More Affordable in Iowa
Iowa is facing a child care crisis in both urban and rural areas. While it directly impacts families with small kids, it also hurts Iowa’s economy and is a huge barrier in recruiting and building a skilled workforce. Nearly a quarter of the state’s residents are estimated to live in a childcare desert while the annual cost has been estimated to be more than tuition at a public university. This year addressing childcare was set to be a priority in the state legislature, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This was especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, several bills addressing this issue were voted on in the House Human Resources Committee. While these bills did not go far enough, or directly help the people needing this assistance, small steps were made in the right direction. One bill, HSB 2, raised rates for providers who accept child care assistance. Another bill, HSB 3, created a state-funded program to allow families to gradually get off this assistance while avoiding the “cliff effect”. For a family that is near the income limit, even a slight raise would disqualify them for the benefit and be subject to the full child care costs, which is called the “cliff effect”.
The issue of child care affordability and accessibility will only be solved by big ideas and solutions. The bills the Majority Party put forward only scratch the surface.
These bills will now go to the House Floor for consideration.
COVID Relief Grants for Restaurants & Bars
Starting February 1st, Iowa owned restaurants and bars can apply for grants through the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA). Bars and restaurants that have experienced at least a 15% loss in revenue due to COVID-19 can apply to receive up to $25,000. Grant awards will be determined by the amount of decrease in gross sales in the second and third quarters of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Applications will be accepted from February 1st through February 15th.
More information can be found on IEDA’s website, https://www.iowaeda.com/covid-funding-programs/.
Iowa 43rd in the US for Vaccination Distribution
As of this week, more than 162,000 Iowans have received the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine, while over 32,000 have received the second dose. This puts Iowa 43rd out of the 50 states plus Washington D.C. for the percent of the population that has received the first dosage of the vaccine.
Just 5.2% of Iowa’s population has received the first dosage of vaccine. In the United States 6% of the total percent of the population has received the first round of vaccines. Alaska currently has the highest rate of population receiving their first shot at 11%.
All of the data used in this update comes from the Washington Post Vaccine Tracker.
Other Iowa News
COVID-19 RELIEF TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: The Governor has announced the reallocation of $17 million in relief money made available to local governments for direct expenses incurred in response to the COVID-19 emergency. A breakdown of funds can be found here.
IOWA HISTORY 101: The State Historical Society of Iowa is putting on one-hour virtual programs to tell the stories of Iowa history. The series celebrates the 175th Anniversary of Iowa. Programs are on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Upcoming programs include; Immigration to Iowa, Iowa’s Black Migration, and Stories from the “Iowa’s People and Places” Exhibit. Programs through the end of March have been scheduled. The programs are free but do require a registration. Information about upcoming programs and to register visit, https://iowaculture.gov/history/iowa-history-101-series.
PANDEMIC & DERECHO BOOST IOWA CONSUMER COMPLAINTS: Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division experienced a 24.4% increase during 2020 amid the pandemic. Complaints related to COVID-19 and the Derecho played a big role in the increase. The Division received more than 600 complaints relating to health care product price gouging and disaster repair services. Attorneys and investigators responded quickly to the complaints and streamlined processes to prevent additional complaints by warning Iowans about storm chaser and COVID scammers. Investigators continue to reach out to online retailers and individual sellers to stop predatory pricing and created a new price-gouging complaint form to obtain unique information relevant to these complaints. Iowans with questions or scam complaints can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by email at email@example.com or by phone at (515) 281-5926.
DRY 2020 LEADS TO DROUGHT ACROSS THE STATE: 2020 was the 36th driest and 33th warmest on record out of nearly 150 years of records. Precipitation was below normal in the state for 8 of 12 months. In September, nearly 15% of the state was experiencing the 2nd highest level of drought designation as “Extreme Drought.” At the most severe, every county in the state was experiencing some level of dryness and almost all of the state was experiencing some level of drought. The state began 2020 free of any drought or dryness in the state. Concerns have also grown for shallow groundwater conditions. Groundwater conditions were moderate to severe in 20% of the state by the end of the year. Stream flows also decreased from potential flooding to begin 2020 to below normal by the end of the year. The differences between 2019 and 2020 were significant. In 2019, the average temperatures were 1.2 degrees cooler than normal while the 2020 average was 1 degree above normal. 2020 also experienced over a foot less precipitation than 2019. In 2019, Iowa suffered an estimated $1.6 billion in damage from flooding and 67 counties were declared disasters because of that flooding.