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04/08/21 
 
AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN
     Help is on the way for farmers and other rural Iowans
     American Rescue Plan resources for communities
TRAGEDY SHOWS NEED FOR CORRECTIONS FUNDING
LEGISLATION OF INTEREST
     Enhancing communities through land banks
     Bill is bad for property taxpayers and local services
     Women’s reproductive rights in jeopardy
HEALTH CARE UPDATES
     National Public Health Week - April 5-11
     Iowa Medicaid Reference Guide
     Avoid Medicare scams
     Vaccines for Iowans with intellectual disabilities

 
 
 
 

AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN

 

Help is on the way for farmers and other rural Iowans

 

 
First the trade wars, then the pandemic and the derecho. They’ve all rocked the economy for Iowa farmers, folks living and working in rural areas, and anyone in an ag-related field. Although commodity prices have improved over the last few months, we still have a long ways to go – and fortunately, help is on the way with the American Rescue Plan.
 
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack says, “The bill not only boosts SNAP benefits through September, it also increases targeted nutrition assistance to mothers and young children and expedites more nutrition aid to U.S. territories. Farmers, business owners, and workers across the food supply chain will see additional assistance to respond to market disruption, as well.”
 
The federal American Rescue Plan will purchase more food from farmers for distribution through food banks, nonprofits and restaurants, helping to feed families in need and support farmers’ bottom lines. It also invests in livestock and animal health by providing funding to monitor COVID-19 in animals and reduce pandemic-related expenses for small meat and poultry processors.
 
At the state level, we should build on this help for farmers and rural Iowans. Senate Democrats have proposed legislation to do just that, including providing an additional $2 million to Iowa Department of Agriculture to expand Double Up Food Bucks program, which connects low-income families with healthy fruits and vegetables grown by Iowa farmers (SF 273).
 
 

American Rescue Plan resources for communities

 

 
The American Rescue Plan provides $1.1 billion in local fiscal relief that will aid Iowa communities, small and large. The National League of Cities has created a searchable summary of provisions for municipalities, including estimates of how much funding they’ll receive.
 
According to the League of Cities analysis, funding can be used:
  • To measure revenue loss from providing government services related to the pandemic.
  • For premium pay to eligible essential workers.
  • For water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
 
Additional resources for more information:  
 
 

TRAGEDY SHOWS NEED FOR CORRECTIONS FUNDING

 

 
On March 23, two inmates attempted to escape Anamosa State Penitentiary. They violently attacked and killed a nurse and correctional officer with hammers. They also held another staff member hostage and seriously injured a fellow inmate who attempted to render aid. It’s the first time an inmate has killed a worker since 1972.
 
This terrible tragedy never should have happened, and it was preventable. The warning signs have been there for a long time:
  • Rising violence with offender assaults on staff escalating in recent years. 
     
  • Overcrowded prisons, by nearly 10% above inmate capacity.
     
  • Cuts to staffing, with more than 600 employee positions lost over the last decade.
     
  • Inadequate funding for prisons. In Anamosa alone, funding is $800,000 lower today than it was in 2016.
     
  • Inability to negotiate workplace safety provisions since 2017, when Republican lawmakers stripped collective bargaining rights for public servants.
 
This is a failure of leadership from the Reynolds Administration and GOP lawmakers. As legislators, it’s our job to keep the staff and public safe, especially in places like Anamosa.
 
I’m ready to take immediate action. This session, the Legislature must:
  • Fully fund the prisons and fill all positions
  • Conduct an independent investigation at Anamosa
  • Implement new training procedures in our prisons
  • Restore bargaining rights for prison workers and other public employees
 
 
 

LEGISLATION OF INTEREST

 
Last week, the Legislature passed a key deadline, the “second funnel.” For Senate policy bills to remain eligible for consideration, they had to be approved by a House committee, and House policy bills had to be approved by a Senate committee to remain alive.
 
The funnel helps legislators narrow our focus to what has a real chance of becoming law this year. Fortunately, some bad ideas have died, and many good opportunities could make it to the Governor’s desk.
 
See our complete list of good and bad bills that are still alive at wp.me/p8aBRy-7Ml.
 
 

Enhancing communities through land banks

 

 
Iowa communities will get a new tool to spur affordable housing, local investment and economic growth if SF 590 becomes law. The bill passed the Ways and Means Committee and is eligible for debate by the full Senate.
 
SF 590 establishes “land banks,” which are public-private partnerships to rehabilitate rundown, vacant and tax-delinquent properties for productive use. Vacant and abandoned properties signal a community is in decline. They can be magnets for crime, pose health and safety risks, and lower property values.
 
Under the legislation, local governments can create a public agency to purchase abandoned or blighted properties at a special tax sale and contract with private organizations to rehab the sites. The land bank may rent or sell the renovated properties. The money they make allows them to buy and fix up additional properties.
 
Renovated properties may be sold as homes, rented as apartments, or turned into restaurants, offices and stores. It’s great for the local economy because it takes problem properties and turns them into assets.
 
 

Bill is bad for property taxpayers and local services

 

 
Senate Republicans have passed a bill that includes a triple threat to taxpayers. SF 587, which is now under consideration in the Iowa House, is:
  1. Bad for property tax payers: This bill reneges on a bipartisan funding promise to help communities provide critical services in exchange for lowering commercial property taxes. SF 587 will lead to cuts in local services—including police and fire services—or force an increase in local property taxes.
     
  2. Bad for mental health services: SF 587 eliminates stable funding and accountability for Iowa’s mental health system. The bill would instead pay for mental health funding with state dollars, which can fluctuate significantly with the ups and downs of the economy.
     
  3. Bad for local schools: The bill does away with state dollars that cover the costs of lowering commercial property taxes. After years of inadequate public-school funding and other Republican changes, this will further hurt school districts’ ability to meet student needs.
 
 

Women’s reproductive rights in jeopardy

 

 
HJR 5 is a joint resolution to amend the Iowa Constitution. If ratified, the Iowa Constitution would no longer protect a woman’s fundamental right to make health care decisions for herself by banning abortion with no exception for rape, incest or life of the mother.
 
Iowans deserve access to all reproductive health care options, including a safe and legal abortion. Abortion is a deeply personal health care decision that should be made by a woman and her doctor. Politicians need to step aside and trust Iowans to make their own medical decision.
 
HJR 5 was passed by House Republicans on January 27 and was amended by Senate Republicans on April 6. It now returns to the House for further consideration. If it passes the House in this form, it will need to also pass in the next General Assembly (in 2023 or 2024) before going to a vote of the people.
 
 
 

HEALTH CARE UPDATES

 

National Public Health Week - April 5-11

 

 
During National Public Health Week, I want to thank all of Iowa’s public health professionals who’ve gone above and beyond for more than a year to provide services we’ve all needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. I especially want to thank our local public health departments that have focused staff and resources on testing, contact tracing, data accuracy and transparency, and vaccine deployment.
 
The best way we can show appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices of these essential workers is to do our part to defeat the virus. I encourage Iowans—everyone 16 and older is now eligible—to sign up to get vaccinated. In addition, please continue to:
  • Wear a mask
  • Stay six feet away from those outside your household
  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water
  • Stay home if you feel sick
  • Get tested if you are exposed to or have symptoms of COVID-19
 
 

Iowa Medicaid Reference Guide

 

 
Medicaid serves more than 700,000 individuals, or about one in four Iowans. The Iowa Department of Human Services has a new resource for Iowans to understand how the state’s Medicaid program operates.
 
The 2021 Iowa Medicaid Reference Guide provides an overview of the state’s Medicaid program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), including program eligibility, covered services, state oversight, budget development and the governing framework of the programs.
 
Read or download the Medicaid Reference Guide.
 
 

Avoid Medicare scams

 

 
Some Medicare beneficiaries are being contacted by scammers who falsely tell them that “Medicare is issuing new Medicare cards.” Medicare isn't issuing new cards, and Medicare employees don't contact participants through unsolicited calls, emails or visits. Medicare communicates with beneficiaries via mail.
 
Iowa seniors and Medicare beneficiaries can learn more about this and other Medicare scams to avoid by registering for an online update set for Friday, April 23, at https://bit.ly/3s0g8Ua.
 
If you suspect Medicare fraud, errors or abuse, contact the Iowa Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-800-351-4664 or smp.iowa.gov.
 
 

Vaccines for Iowans with intellectual disabilities

 

 
The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities has launched a website to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism — find a COVID-19 vaccine in their area.
 
Access the website at getoutthevaccine.org.
 
Get complete details on this resource from Disability Scoop.
 
 
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Contact information

State Senator Zach Wahls represents Iowa Senate District 37, which includes Cedar County, portions of Johnson County, and Wilton in Muscatine County. Contact him at 515-281-3901 or zach.wahls@legis.iowa.gov.






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