Iowans are stepping up—it's time for our leaders to do the same
Posted on April 23, 2020 at 2:50 PM by Anne Discher
In the last few weeks I’ve had podcast conversations with colleagues at food pantries around the state (listen to this week's conversation with DMARC's Matt Unger here). They are doing herculean work getting food in the hands of Iowans, but are concerned about their capacity to meet the unprecedented need now and in the economic recession sure to follow.
The most extraordinary efforts of nonprofit charities like food pantries are simply not going to be enough. Only our governments — federal, state and local — can channel the needed resources into our communities when suffering is so great.
As I look at the information the Center has put out over the last month of pandemic (and to be honest, the entirety of our nearly 30-year history), our common refrain has been that we need our leaders to do more, to do better, to meet the needs of children and families and the communities they live in.
We sometimes we get grief for the consistency of that message. But this moment shows clearly that each and every person's health and well-being is intertwined, but their opportunities — the ability to work from home, to work safety for a living wage, to work at all — is not equal.
As part of our regular data work, this week we updated our maps and charts on child poverty. In 2018, the most recent year of Census data, child poverty in our state was 13.5 percent, 25 percent higher than in 2000 (10.8 percent). Even in what was considered a robust economy, we were leaving too many of our neighbors behind. We're at dramatic risk of more human suffering if we don't act quickly and decisively.
Only our governments — federal, state and local — can channel the needed resources into our communities when suffering is so great.
Our government is a reflection of Iowa values, for good or for bad, and we're going to need our elected officials to lead us all through the problems that lie ahead, using the best tools humanity has.
Below, read about some of what's required of our federal leaders in the next relief bill.
Be safe and take good care.
New reports: Iowa needs more federal help
Two reports released this week (available here and here) tally how without swift and significantly more federal assistance, states, including Iowa, will be forced to make dramatic spending cuts that hurt families, drive up inequality and slow the broader economic recovery.
We already have indications of the pain that is coming. In the four-week period starting March 21, nearly 270,000 Iowans applied for unemployment. Iowa saw a 10.2 percent unemployment rate the week ending April 4 — surely an undercount, since only about 40 percent of unemployed workers actually receive unemployment benefits.
In one of the new reports, from the Iowa Policy Project, research director Peter Fisher writes: “[T]he substantial drop in state revenues expected for the next fiscal year means that all general state funding — K-12 aid, support of regents institutions and community colleges, public safety, infrastructure, and general operations of state agencies — will have to be slashed below current budget levels unless federal funds replace lost revenue.”
We call on our federal officials to deploy every policy tool at their disposal to directly and indirectly support state budgets, including a fourth federal relief bill that:
Substantially increases the share of Medicaid costs paid for by the federal government and maintain strong protections (“maintenance of effort” requirements) to keep states from cutting coverage while receiving the additional federal funds. As people lose jobs and incomes in coming months, it will grow to meet need, enrolling Iowans who would otherwise become uninsured. Bostering Medicaid will take pressure off other parts of the state budget.
Temporarily increases the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent (like what was done in the 2009 Recovery Act). SNAP is among the most rapid forms of stimulus we can enact because states can act quickly to modify their SNAP programs and get benefits out the door – and SNAP households have very tight budgets, so they tend to spend any additional income they receive. That is why both Moody’s Analytics and the Congressional Budget Office have said that, among possible policy responses to an impending recession, increasing SNAP benefits has one of the biggest “bangs for the buck” in terms of shoring up the economy.
Provides additional state fiscal relief through an extended and/or flexible Coronavirus Relief Fund or other means. These funds should come with with limited restrictions so they can be used to fill revenue shortfalls and should be set up, like all these strategies, to adjust with economic conditions so they remain in place as long as the need remains high.