Some good news and bad news to recap last week’s end of the 2nd funnel.
WATCH WEEK 10 RECAP VIDEO HERE
WE CAN RESTORE FISCAL STABILITY
As legislators turn their attention to next year’s budget, we must make smart decisions and target our investments to get the biggest bang for our buck.
Iowa’s Revenue Estimating Conference, a three-person panel, said Iowa’s revenue will likely be higher than what they predicted last quarter because of federal tax cuts. Unfortunately, the state budget is still a mess.
Republicans borrowed $144 million to balance last year’s budget and the state has seen nearly flat growth this year. Governor Reynolds and legislative Republicans must balance this year’s budget so that we can see what we’re up against as we craft the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
All of this must be done within the next few weeks, and the challenge is compounded by bloated Republican tax plans that give most of the benefits to millionaires and big corporations.
Senate Democrats remain ready to work with Republicans to restore fiscal stability to our state by investing in education and job creation, and taking a serious look at out-of-control spending on tax credits.
STATE TAX RETURNS DELAYED AGAIN
Once again, Iowans are frustrated by how long it’s taking to get their state tax refunds. It was unacceptable last year, and it appears to be worse this year.
Iowans want answers about why they’ve waited for weeks for their refunds for the second year in a row. Data shows the state has issued even fewer refunds this year than it had at the same point last year.
The chart shows how many dollars in state income tax refunds were paid to Iowans by March 8 in each of the last five years. For 2018, just over $200 million was returned to taxpayers by March 8. That’s a big dip from two years ago, when more than $350 million in refunds were made by March 8.
Why must Iowans wait longer and longer to get their tax refunds? In 2017, state officials said the delays were due to fraud prevention efforts. However, an investigation by Iowa newspaper reporters revealed that the Branstad-Reynolds Administration actually didn’t have the money to pay Iowans’ refunds on time.
This year, we don’t know the exact cause for the delays. It could be lack of staff, or it could be lack of funds. Whether it is bad management or the state budget mess, Iowans shouldn’t have to wait to get their money back. The fact that tax refunds aren’t being paid on time is yet another sign of fiscal mismanagement.
A GOOD LUNCH FOR ALL STUDENTS
Throwing away a student’s food, giving them a less desirable alternative lunch, or branding them with wristbands or markers at school is known as lunch shaming.
No kid wants other students to know they haven’t eaten or that they can’t pay for their lunch, and we certainly don’t want them going hungry. It’s common sense that students who have a good lunch will be more focused on their studies and do better in school. Unfortunately, a 2014 report found that nearly half of all school districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay.
With an overhaul of school nutrition standards, school districts nationwide must address school lunch debt.
The Iowa Legislature is weighing in with HF 2467. This bill uses best practices and policies in other states and school districts around the country to come up with a plan for Iowa. It will allow schools to use a recently created “flexibility fund” to cover student lunch debt.
The bill requires schools to notify parents at least twice a year if a student has five or more unpaid lunches. It also encourages schools to offer students reimbursable lunches unless their parents say otherwise.
The bill prohibits a school from stigmatizing a student who has lunch debt. This includes sitting at a separate table, doing chores for food, and wearing a wrist band or other identifying mark. Many schools provide an alternative meal, but that too can draw attention to a student eating something different from the others.
While schools make sure every student that qualifies for free or reduced-priced meal is signed up for the program, this new legislation ensures no Iowa student is shamed or denied a school lunch because they aren’t paid up.
HELP FOR VICTIMS OF CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE
The Senate this week approved help for victims of childhood sexual abuse by allowing them more time to sue their abusers if they have suffered as a result.
VIDEO: See what legislators had to say about why extending the statute of limitations is so important.
Under current Iowa law, a person only has one year after turning 18 to file a claim for damages against their abuser in some cases. Many victims of childhood sexual abuse don’t come to terms with how the abuse has impacted their lives until well into adulthood. By changing Iowa law, we can show victims that we care for them and want them to have their day in court.
The change, proposed by Senator Janet Petersen, was approved as an amendment to House File 2284. The change must also be accepted by the House before going to the Governor for her signature.
PRIVATIZED MEDICAID CONTINUES TO CAUSE PROBLEMS
Medicaid members and health care providers are continuing to have problems with privatized Medicaid.
Health care providers are raising serious concerns about late, delayed or incorrect payments. Many Medicaid members and their families have called and emailed me about services that have been denied, reduced or changed. And taxpayers are not happy that a Medicaid system run by out-of-state corporations is more expensive than when it was publicly managed by the state.
Because of lingering concerns, my colleagues and I have asked to delay the confirmation of Jerry Foxhoven as director of the Department of Human Services. The deadline for his confirmations is April 15, so there’s no need to rush this important decision.
Are you having trouble with privatized Medicaid? If so, I want to know about the problems you’ve faced getting services or getting reimbursed by the MCOs. Please call me or email me with specific details of any late, delayed or incorrect payments; any services that have been denied, reduced or changed; and any challenges with the privatized system that you did not experience when Medicaid was publicly managed by the state.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PUT IOWANS FIRST?
With a month left in the 2018 session, Senate Democrats are staying focused on Putting Iowans First.
Iowans work hard, but many still struggle to get by. Stagnant wages, rising health care costs, and fewer dollars going to job training and public education are hurting Iowa families. Those themes were reflected in a short survey we conducted last month.
Good jobs: When asked about the best way to bring better-paying jobs to communities, a third of respondents said we need to restore and protect worker rights. About 20 percent think we need more job training and apprenticeship opportunities.
Rural revitalization: When it comes to revitalizing Iowa’s small towns and rural areas, 29 percent believe we should expand job-creation efforts in all 99 counties, and 20 percent say we must ensure working families can find safe, affordable places to live.
Education: 25 percent of those who took the survey say we need to empower and respect educators if was want Iowans to get the best education in the country, and 23 percent said college needs to be affordable.
Quality of life: 49 percent of respondents say affordable health care and mental health care matter most to their quality of life, followed improving our water and taking care of our environment (19 percent).
Policies: When asked what the Legislature should do to improve our state, respondents overwhelmingly encouraged us to adequately fund education, to end privatized Medicaid, to improve mental health care and to put working Iowans ahead of big corporations.
Survey responses came from 870 Iowans in 75 counties representing all regions of the state. Senate Democrats included the survey in newsletters, on our website and on all our social media. See a breakdown of responses.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
Safe boating this summer
An estimated 220,000 boats are registered in Iowa. To ensure safe waters, boaters are encouraged to know the rules of the water before the start of the season. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources offers online boater education courses, and from March 18 to 24, you can get 50 percent off the course price with the code SpringAboard2018. It takes about six hours to complete, and covers required equipment, boating basics, navigation rules, environmental stressors and aids to navigation. Get started at the Iowa DNR’s boater education page.
Governors Arts Awards
Through April 1, you can nominate an Iowa artist or organization that has made an impact on the vitality of the arts in the state. Awards are presented during the Iowa Arts Summit. Categories include:
Governor's Arts Award – This recognizes those who have undertaken significant work in the arts over the past two years.
Governor's Arts Legacy Award – This recognizes those who have made a significant impact on the arts in Iowa over the long run.
Own a piece of the Iowa Capitol
You have a chance to purchase a brick salvaged from the Iowa Capitol dome restoration work. Proceeds from the sale go to the Iowa State Capitol Monument Conservation Fund and will be used to maintain and restore the Capitol grounds monuments.
You will receive an original Iowa Capitol dome brick, a certificate of authenticity from the Iowa Capitol Planning Commission and a bronze medallion with the sequential number of your brick.
This bricks date from the original Iowa Capitol dome, which was constructed in the early 1880s. Approximately 12,000 bricks are being removed and replaced because of moisture damage. The brick you purchase is one of about 1,000 that were salvaged.
To order a brick, go to www.legis.iowa.gov/store.