|Removing Barriers so Iowans Can Return to Work
Iowa’s worker shortage was compounded by the pandemic and many businesses are still struggling to find employees today. We need to remove barriers so that Iowans have the opportunity to go back to work. Barriers such as accessible and affordable healthcare, higher education, and childcare, as well as even providing basic needs such as food on the table and a place to live.
While there were several opportunities to remove these barriers during the legislative session, the Governor and Republican lawmakers largely ignored COVID-19 and long-term recovery efforts to get Iowans back in the workplace. Fortunately, President Biden and Democrats in the U.S. Congress are working to ensure a full recovery.
Boost for Iowa Families
Starting this month, thousands of Iowa families are getting a financial boost as the expanded child tax credit hits bank accounts and mailboxes.
Thanks to President Biden and Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne, the expanded tax credit will provide $300 monthly for each child ages 6 to 17 and $360 monthly for each child under 6. That’s more than $156 million to help 618,000 Iowa children over the next year.
In Iowa, we are facing a child care crisis in both urban and rural areas. The shortage of affordable child care hurts Iowa’s economy and is a huge barrier in recruiting workers and getting Iowans back into the workforce. While a few small steps were taken during the legislative session, there’s more we need to do to remove the child care cost barrier.
Check on your child tax credit here.
Affordable Health Care
The lack of affordable, accessible health care in Iowa was exacerbated by the pandemic. Some Iowans left the workforce during the pandemic and have not returned because they don’t want to get sick and don’t have health care.
To remove this barrier, President Biden and Congresswoman Axne expanded ACA subsidies to make plans more affordable and re-opened the Affordable Care Act’s special enrollment period until August 15th.
Apply here for affordable health care.
Iowa has a lack of affordable housing. According to a recent Census Bureau survey, 84,663 Iowans are behind on rent, and about 30,000 are worried they’ll be evicted from their homes in the next two months.
To keep Iowans impacted by COVID in their homes, Iowa 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.
Unfortunately, an investigative report found Governor Reynolds is holding financial assistance from thousands of Iowans who may be facing eviction beginning July 31st.
When Iowa families face housing instability, this is a huge barrier to workforce access and stability. Governor Reynolds needs to end the delays, cut red tape, and quickly place assistance into the hands of Iowans before they lose their homes.
Apply for rental & utility assistance here.
Iowans Deserve a Livable Wage
According to the most recent data from the State Economic Monitor, Iowa ranks 38th in the country in average weekly earnings, well below the national average.
While Governor Reynolds continues to tout that many of Iowa’s jobs remain unfilled, the report sheds light on why some jobs are still open, including that just 9% of jobs posted in Iowa pay a living wage for a family of four without an advanced college degree. Less than 2% of the jobs posted would pay a living wage for the same family if they did not attend college. Job opportunities still remain open and many employers are posting new positions daily to recruit workers.
Search for a job here.
Delta Variant on the Rise in Iowa, At-Home COVID Test Kits Now Available
The more transmittable and potentially more severe Delta variant of COVID-19 is on the rise in Iowa, so getting vaccinated is more important than ever. Ninety-seven percent of all new hospitalizations from COVID-19 are of unvaccinated individuals according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials say 70 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to stop COVID-19 community spread. Find a vaccine location at: vaccines.gov.
At-Home COVID Testing Now Available
Free COVID-19 at-home test kits are now available from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the State Hygienic Lab. These kits contain a saliva PCR test, that is considered equal in performance to the nasal swab tests used at the drive-thru Test Iowa sites.
Each kit contains step-by-step instructions on how to activate the kit, collect the sample, and how to return it to the lab for processing using UPS. Iowans are able to receive their kit directly at their home, or they can pick one up at a nearby pick-up site. To send the kit back for testing, return it to your nearest UPS drop-off location, which can be found here. Each kit contains a prepaid UPS label at no cost. Results will be sent to the individual via email 24 hours from when the sample was received by the State Hygienic Lab for processing.
With the arrival of these kits, all of the Test Iowa drive-thru testing sites have been closed.
For more information on how to receive an at-home testing kit, please visit testiowa.com.
Annual Tax-Free Weekend is the August 6 and 7
Good news for Iowans doing back to school shopping! The annual tax-free weekend in the state is August 6th and August 7th. Sales tax will not be collected on any clothing sales, including footwear, that sells for less than $100.
Clothing included in the sales tax exemption generally includes any article of wearing apparel or footwear that is intended to be worn on the body. Not included are watches, jewelry, sporting equipment, or any other special clothing or footwear designed for athletic or protective use and not as everyday wear.
Additional information on the sales tax holiday can be found at tax.iowa.gov/iowas-annual-sales-tax-holiday.
Explore the Outdoors, New Recreational Opportunities Available in Iowa
Ready to get outdoors? Now through the end of October, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is offering buy one, get one-night free camping in six state parks. Campers can receive the deal for up to 14 nights of camping. The six parks are Beeds Lake in Franklin County, Lake Keomah in Mahaska County, Lake of Three Fires in Taylor County, Nine Eagles in Decatur County, Pilot Knob in Hancock County, and Red Haw in Lucas County. Use the code GEM21 when making a reservation online.
While visiting any state park be sure to check out the DNR’s new online trail maps. The DNR has maps available for each state park that identifies trail names, trail heads, acceptable trail use, and distances. While it is not part of an app, the maps can be found on the DNR’s website by going to the parks page and clicking on the Iowa state parks trails. A direct link can be found here.
Derecho Damage Insurance Contract Deadline Nears
As the first anniversary of the devastating Derecho nears on August 10th, some Iowans are waiting for work on their homes to be finished while others are experiencing materials shortages and contractor availability hurdles to complete repairs.
The Iowa Insurance Division is encouraging policy holders who are pursuing claims under their insurance contracts to work with their insurance company and agent as they move through the process to obtain the necessary repairs. This can take time as both parties work to come to an understanding.
Policyholders who find damage from the derecho, which was not previously claimed, may still be able to file an insurance claim. However, time is of the essence. The insurance company will address the claim based on the insurance contract terms, which likely includes provisions requiring claims to be filed within a specific time frame. The Division recommends Iowans read their insurance contract carefully, document their efforts, and contact their insurance agent to ensure they are meeting these important deadlines.
Insurers may use specific contract language to limit the time to settle the insurance claim and to have the repairs completed. However, there are some insurance carriers willing to grant extensions on a case-by-case basis given the unique circumstances caused by the Derecho.
Iowans who may need an extension should speak directly with their agent and insurance company sooner rather than later to determine if this is necessary to complete repairs. If the request is denied, consumers may file a complaint with the Insurance Division’s office to review the facts concerning their claim.
More Iowa News
511 TRAFFIC WEBSITE GETS AN UPDATE: The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has updated its travel information website. 511ia.org is now a one-stop shop to receive travel and traffic information across the state. Travelers will no longer need to select which bandwidth version to use. The updated website tracks traffic incidents, highway construction, and weather impacts on state and U.S. highways and interstates. Travelers can set up an account which will send alerts when there is construction or activity along saved routes. The DOT is in the process of updating 511 app for iOS and Android devices. The new app will be available next year.
LEGISLATURE ADDRESSES ENGLISH LEARNERS: English Language Learners (ELL) state funding in Iowa has been out of date for some time. Deciding additional funding per student, known as weighting, was previously the same for all ELL students regardless if the student needed intensive instruction or just a little bit of help. This year, the legislature passed HF 655, recategorized students based on their English proficiency. It increases the supplemental weighting for most intensive ELL students, and reduces slightly the weighting for intermediate ELL students. The overall funding provided remained the same. According to the 2020 Condition of Education Report, Iowa had 21,615 ELL students for the 2019-20 school year or 6.5%. That compares to 1.6% in the 2000-01 school year. House File 655 was signed into law earlier this year and went into effect on April 30th.
ANNIVERSARY OF AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT: Earlier this week, the 31st Anniversary of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took place. Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990 this gave protections to individuals with disabilities. Iowa’s former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin is credited with co-authoring the legislation. He worked in a bi-partisan effort to move the legislation through the U.S. Senate and to the President’s desk. The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) gave civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA and ADAAA also assure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.