Common Good Iowa

Opportunity through public policy: Different approaches in Washington and Des Moines

Posted on April 30, 2021 at 11:12 AM by Mike Owen

President Biden’s challenge to Congress to rejuvenate the nation came as a welcome contrast to what Iowans are seeing from their State Capitol. While the Iowa legislative leaders spend the session’s closing days doubling down on a divisive agenda that undermines public education, job security and a community spirit of opportunity for all, the Biden plan offers Iowans hope. Where the state leadership diverts the role of government to private political allies, the president is presenting an optimistic view of how public policy can push opportunity and prosperity.

High on Biden’s list are initiatives that sharply diverge from our state leadership’s priorities and recognize the challenges posed by a yearlong pandemic and legacy of centuries of racism and decades of rising economic inequality:

  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15. This would bypass Iowa lawmakers who’ve left the minimum at $7.25 since January 2008, benefit about 30 percent of the state’s work force [1, 2] and pump an additional $1.6 billion into the Iowa economy and local businesses.

  • Extend boosts to the Earned Income Tax Credit in the Rescue Act, which already benefits 181,000 workers without children, [3] and the Child Tax Credit, which benefits 669,000 children under 18, or 93 percent of that population in Iowa. [4]

  • Reform unemployment insurance, a long overdue action. Ironically, on the day of the president’s speech, a State Senate committee passed a bill to drag Iowa down to the level of states that require a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits — causing serious hardship to families when they can least afford it.

  • Invest in clean energy and energy efficiency, paired with strong labor standards.Iowa gutted its successful energy efficiency programs in 2018 and the Legislature is on the verge of not extending popular solar tax credits, both moves that depress job opportunities.

  • Bolstering the caring economy — child care and home health care workers whose services are necessary for all to participate fully in the economy. Iowa lawmakers have started talking the talk on these issues — and the pandemic has certainly helped force their hands — but their actions have been modest.

Further contrasts from Washington to Des Moines were unmistakable:

  • In Iowa, state senators on party lines voted to ban diversity training that recognizes lasting impacts of racial discrimination in our society and institutions. Hours after a state senator took the floor in Des Moines to scoff at discussion of white supremacy, the president warned the nation, “White supremacy is terrorism.” Biden challenged Americans “to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system and enact police reform in George Floyd's name that has passed the House already.”

  • The president walked into the House chamber wearing a mask due to the pandemic, and spoke to the nation before a vice president and speaker both wearing masks. Meanwhile, Iowa legislative leaders — who routinely disregard advice on masks — have been alerted by state OSHA for potential COVID-19 hazards to State Capitol workers in a state where the pandemic death toll is within sight of 6,000 and positive tests are nearing 400,000.

On top of all this, the Legislature continues to jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID aid with proposals — not yet through both houses — that would cut state taxes, violating a condition for use of the federal funds.[5] Further, there has been precious little discussion, in public anyway, about how that funding could be used to improve Iowans’ lives in recovery from the pandemic.

Iowans are seeing firsthand two very different visions of how public policy and leadership can protect them and offer better opportunity.

[1]  Peter Fisher, “More than ‘Thank you’: Boost the minimum wage, and Iowa’s economy,” Common Good Iowa blog, March 9, 2021.

[2]  Economic Policy Institute, The impact of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, by congressional district.” Jan. 28, 2021.

[4]  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Appendix Table 3

[5]  Peter Fisher, “State leaders missing opportunities on federal relief funds,” Common Good Iowa blog, April 29, 2021.

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