Common Good Iowa

2022 session recap

A damaging session for the Common Good

From the start of the 2022 legislative session, it was clear from comments by legislative leaders and Governor Kim Reynolds that Iowa workers, Iowa families and Iowa schools would be shortchanged. The Legislature delivered on that threat with perhaps the most damaging session in memory and one that future lawmakers will be trying to recover from for years or even decades.

Victories for the common good of our state were few and small, and defeats many and large. This legislative session will be most remembered for these issues:

Income-tax cuts for the wealthy, setting up future cuts in critical, popular services

Following income-tax cuts in 2018 and 2021, the Legislature came back in 2022 with the largest tax cut in Iowa history, one that will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Iowans as it strips our ability to meet basic priorities in education, health, public safety and the environment. When fully phased in after five years, it will cut nearly $2 billion from what is now just over an $8 billion budget.

Not only was this tax package developed outside of public view in a backroom budget process, its consequences also will not be immediately seen because the deepest cuts take effect over the next five years. Inevitably, these cuts will force a severe reduction in services or massive increase in other taxes.

Service cuts and increases in the sales tax or various fees will impose a greater proportional cost on Iowans at or near poverty. This means also a heavier impact on Iowans of color, who hold a disproportionate share of low-wage jobs due to disadvantages baked into our employment and education systems.

It is only small consolation that this could have been even worse, with some lawmakers favoring full elimination of the personal income tax, which funds over half the state’s general fund. Advocates for any service funded or supported by the state must recognize the threat to their own priorities by this obsession to cut taxes regardless of the cost to services.

Austerity vs. Investment: an inadequate state budget despite resources and need

Even with inflation running at over 8 percent, lawmakers approved a budget near Gov. Reynolds’ proposed 2 percent increase. That effectively represents a cut in services that make Iowa a good place to live, including schools, higher education, public health and safety, human services and environmental protection.

Lawmakers chose austerity even though the state is sitting on almost $2 billion of short-term surplus largely generated by direct federal pandemic relief to the state and relief to individuals that boosted the state economy. When federal aid expires, state services that it has supported will present a new budget challenge for future legislators.

Big cracks in Iowa’s “Foundation in Education”

The failure of this session to recognize and meet the needs of Iowa students is especially stark. Lawmakers extended a decade-long pattern of funding our schools at levels below what it takes to truly prepare our youth for life after high school. They also shortchanged higher education, with a 1 percent increase for Iowa’s public universities after no increase last year.

Unjustified and vicious attacks on Iowa public school educators by prominent leaders accompanied a drive to pass school vouchers, which divert funding from public schools to private schools. That voucher plan failed, but the rhetoric and other actions threaten our state’s ability to recruit and retain the education professionals who have made our schools great. And they have undermined Iowa’s standing as a state that values education and civility. Recovery will require more than money; it will require renewed respect for the thousands of teachers on the front lines of public education.  

Unmet promises in child care, with reduced health and safety rules

Lawmakers approved allowing child care workers to care for more 2- and 3-year-olds and allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work unsupervised in child care centers. Quality child care is about health, safety and fostering secure, responsive attachments — and both changes will put more stress on an already exhausted and often underpaid work force.

At the same time, legislators did not even seriously consider proven strategies that would help more families access and afford child care. They failed to increase the Child Care Assistance (CCA) entry family income eligibility level, leaving Iowa with one of the lowest front-door income eligibility cutoffs in the nation. They also failed to raise CCA provider reimbursements even one dime closer to the federal standard, so reimbursement would reflect the actual costs of quality care, allowing families more choice of providers and providers themselves to earn a living wage.

Lawmakers’ answer to this important workforce issue falls short: Grants to encourage more “slots” for children and expanding capacity do not address the need for quality staff. Further, opening the door to higher charges for low-wage families makes access more difficult. That is the effect of allowing child care providers who accept Child Care Assistance to charge low-income families extra.

Legalized discrimination against transgender athletes

By banning trans girls and women from participating in most publicly accessible sports teams in Iowa, from elementary school through college, legislators and the Governor struck a blow against equity, opportunity and fundamental human dignity. Rather than protecting girls’ sports, the move poses a threat to the well-being of children and young people in our state. It also represents a major long-term liability to the state of Iowa as businesses and families reject an unwelcoming climate that panders to extremist views, by intention or neglect.

Weakened unemployment insurance benefits

Proffered as a solution to the workforce shortage, the Legislature slashed unemployment insurance (UI) despite declining unemployment rates and record low UI claims. By shortening the length of payments from 26 weeks to 16 weeks, the state expects to pay out $70 million less in earned unemployment benefits in 2023, deepening poverty among Iowa’s most vulnerable in favor of a tax break for businesses. The passed bill also requires unemployed workers to accept lower-paying jobs sooner, forcing workers to choose between a demotion or loss of insurance payments. This will have lasting harm on worker well-being and the state’s economy. The Senate approved but the House rejected adding a one-week waiting period for benefits.

 

The bad: Needed actions not taken

Lawmakers avoided action in several areas that could have advanced opportunity and prosperity for Iowans and their families. Several examples are below.

Failed to make meaningful improvements to child care

As noted in the “Unmet promises” summary on child care above, legislators failed to increase the Child Care Assistance (CCA) entry family income eligibility level. That means Iowa continues to have one of the lowest front-door income eligibility cutoffs in the nation: 145 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), or around $33,000 for a family of three. Ultimately, the state should boost the level to at least 185 percent of FPL, but they did not entertain even a modest increase to 150 percent of FPL that would have opened the program to nearly 900 Iowa families.

Failed to extend Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women

Extending Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months postpartum would have assured continuity of care for new parents as they recover and navigate parenting and work and helped set their children on a healthy trajectory. Besides providing critical health care coverage for new mothers, this move would have lowered health care costs by assuring the new parents could get care as they need it, instead of waiting for a major health emergency.

Postpartum coverage expansion has already passed in other states, including red states like Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana. But instead of approving this humane, common-sense policy, Iowa lawmakers ordered a study of this already well-studied topic, requiring women to wait and hope for critical postpartum health care coverage next year.

Failed to address food insecurity

Legislators passed up a chance to hold hungry families harmless even after Gov. Reynolds ended the pandemic-related larger SNAP allotments by ending the state’s public health emergency. They declined the opportunity to support Double Up Food Bucks, which stretches family budgets by doubling the value of SNAP dollars spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, often spent with local growers to support the local economy, or to support food banks that serve families who may not qualify for SNAP or who face short-term crises.

Failed to increase the minimum wage

Iowa’s minimum wage has not been raised since Jan. 1, 2008 – a year and a half before the federal wage was increased to the same $7.25 an hour. Combined with failure to improve child care assistance and other work supports, making low wages a policy priority assures that the workforce shortage in Iowa will continue.

Failed to provide funding support for doula services through Medicaid

Opportunities to support funding for doula services did not garner enough support for passage. Doulas are highly trained professionals offering emotional and informational support during pregnancy and delivery. Research shows the use of doula care improved delivery experiences and are supportive of birthing experiences for Black women. Supporting doula care could improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.

Failed to expand recycling by passing minimal bottle-bill reform

Instead of expanding the recycling of beverage containers to update the anti-litter and recycling goals of the 43-year-old bottle law, legislators fell short. They agreed on a package that will permit grocers to abandon their responsibility to take back containers, will not raise the 5-cent deposit to encourage greater recycling, and will not expand the current list of alcoholic beverage and soda pop containers to include juice, tea and water bottles. While there may be different options available for recycling, the financial incentive to do so remains weak and for many Iowans it will be less convenient than returning bottles and cans to the place of purchase. Iowa’s roadside ditches and park sites may provide the answer to whether recycling suffers with these changes.

Mixed bag

Again, no creation of a voter-approved environment and recreation trust fund

It’s been 12 legislative sessions since Iowa voters approved using the first three-eighths’ cent of the next sales-tax increase to fund an outdoor recreation and natural resource protection trust fund. Yet again lawmakers failed to deliver on the voters’ expectations. While voters agreed on the need for the fund and the way to fill it, the failure of a Senate plan for the fund would have broken trust with the voters’ intent by changing how the fund would be used.

The plan would have scaled back the dollars for new outdoor recreation projects and shifted them instead to cover existing programs and to defray the costs of environmental cleanup that should be borne by the polluters themselves. Iowans have demanded and deserve clean water, clean air and great recreational opportunities that are part of a quality-of-life agenda for the common good. To make Iowa a great place to live and play, lawmakers should come back next year and fill the trust fund as voters intended. At the same time, they should combine it with moves toward tax equity, to offset the disproportionate impact of a sales-tax increase on low-income Iowans.

Weak improvement to public-records access

The Legislature passed a bill [SF 2322] to revise public record request language, adding that public agencies should make every reasonable effort to limit public record fees to copying costs, but only for requests that take less than 30 minutes. It allows requesters to contest the reasonableness of fees, and limits fees for legal costs to redaction or review of legally protected confidential information. While a step in the right direction, meaningful public record reform would enable free, online access to records and establish that records are kept in such a way that any legally protected information is easily separated to lessen the need for legal reviews.

The good | Improvements made in the 2022 session

Supporting rural medical providers through expanded loan repayment program

Health care options are few and far between in rural Iowa, and rural Iowans pay more in medical costs than the rest of the state. In a move that may increase health care availability for rural areas of the state, the legislature expanded the Rural Primary Care Loan Repayment Program to include neurologists, part-time practitioners, and providers who did not complete their residencies in Iowa. The bill also expanded state programs for other health care providers, including nurses. [SF 2383]

Increased financial support for human service workforce

Lawmakers made much-needed provider rate increases to child welfare, behavioral health, and other Medicaid providers. The workforce challenge facing the human service profession is creating barriers for Iowans to access critical services. Often people in these positions care for the neediest of Iowans while earning low wages.

The good | Bad things lawmakers did not do

No constitutional amendment that would risk schools, safety and health by imposing minority rule on income-tax increases

Lawmakers rejected a plan to permit as few as 17 (of 50) senators or 34 (of 100) representatives to veto any increase in income-tax rates. This incredibly reckless proposal would have locked in income tax cuts that will force budget cuts and shower benefits on the richest Iowans, tying the hands of future legislators.  

No school vouchers

As noted above, Gov. Reynolds failed to pass vouchers to encourage students to attend private schools at taxpayers’ expense. Vouchers would fundamentally change Iowa’s long-standing commitment to free universal public education and equal opportunity. Vouchers divert taxpayer dollars to private schools that have no public accountability on which students they choose to accept, on curriculum, or on finances including specifically the use of tax dollars. Public schools have those requirements. Vouchers would hasten further racial segregation and undermine the sense of community that starts in our schools.

Diverting funding from public schools would disproportionally hurt schools in Black and brown communities where lost dollars will force administrators to cut corners. Finally, it is important to recognize that Iowa already permits – and generously subsidizes – private schools and home-schooling. It is time for lawmakers to focus on their fundamental responsibility for public education, and to stop further diversions that undermine the ability of schools to meet their mission.

No duplicative eligibility red tape for Iowans needing aid for food or health care

Contrary to the stated purpose of “program integrity” in assuring recipients were eligible for food and health benefits, HF 2438 proposed a myriad of provisions that would actually undermine the integrity of the programs. They would force many families off supports to feed and care for children, and at great cost to taxpayers -- $1.3 million in FY 2024 alone. Facing widespread opposition from service providers and other advocates for low-income supports, the bill that did not advance past a House subcommittee.

Other actions in 2022

The list above is not exhaustive. Lawmakers passed a long-sought and welcome sales-tax exemption for female hygiene products and diapers. They extended a residential solar tax credit to consumers who had been on a waiting list before the credit expired – a welcome move that nevertheless calls attention to the need for the state to do more to help Iowans individually to combat climate change, and to introduce equity to these efforts so that every Iowan can benefit.

Finally, on the same day 19 children and two teachers in a Texas elementary school were gunned down by a killer armed with a military-style rifle, the Legislature sent a bill to the Governor allowing similar weapons for deer hunting. Common Good Iowa did not take a position on this legislation. We would today, to discourage one more reason for such weapons to be circulating.

Through the interim period before the next legislative session, actions on these and several other issues – such as protections of residents of manufactured and mobile homes from exorbitant rent increases – will demand further attention and review.

 

This summary was compiled from summaries and analysis by the Common Good Iowa staff. For more information, contact CGI Deputy Director Mike Owen, mowen@commongoodiowa.org.

 

 

 

© 2022 Common Good Iowa. All rights reserved.