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During the holidays, Iowans give back and help those in need. This year, the Legislature encouraged charitable giving by increasing tax credits for donations to the community foundations and providing $1 million for Iowa food banks.
Those measures won’t be enough, however, unless we see more board-based economic growth. Even though the worst of the national recession is over, many of our families, friends and neighbors continue to struggle. According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, this uneven recovery has increased the gap between the very well off and just about everyone else.
A shrinking middle class would be bad news for Iowa, a state with many small businesses and communities. This year, the Legislature took a comprehensive approach to strengthening and growing Iowa’s middle class by:
• Investing in education. We fought for and won two years of significant increases to help K-12 students get the best start possible. To boost student achievement, we are keeping class sizes small for young learners, raising standards, improving teaching and encouraging innovation. We also froze in-state university tuition for the first time in 30 years, so all Iowans can pursue the opportunities that lead to good careers.
• Cutting taxes. We cut property taxes, with special emphasis on helping our small local businesses the most. Working families who pay the largest percentage of their income in taxes will get a boost from an increase in the state Earned Income Tax Credit.
• Creating good local jobs and training Iowans to fill them. The landmark, bipartisan investments made this year by the Legislature are helping Iowans improve their skills and their family’s prospects while at the same time expanding Iowa businesses and easing shortages of skilled workers.
• Expanding access to affordable health care and mental health services for all Iowans, whether they live in the city or rural communities. With new health care security, medical bills will be much less likely to force middle-class Iowans into foreclosure and bankruptcy.
If middle-class Iowans can’t make ends meet, all Iowans will be in trouble. This year’s investments can make a real difference, but there is more we can do to grow Iowa’s middle class. Finding those solutions will be at the top of our agenda for the next legislative session, which starts January 13.
HELPING HUNGRY IOWANS JUST GOT HARDER
As Iowans work to ensure those in need don’t fall through the cracks, we face some real challenges because of cuts in Washington, D.C., that hit low-income families and seniors particularly hard.
This spring, state legislators responded in a bipartisan way to the growing number of Iowa families struggling to get enough to eat. We approved $1 million in help for Iowa food banks and expanded incentives for Iowans to donate to organizations that feed the hungry.
Those steps forward are being undermined by recent federal cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The food budgets of low-income Iowans were slashed by $43 million this month even though the need is increasing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that that the number of hungry Iowans relying on SNAP increased from about 335,000 in January 2010 to more than 420,000 in April 2013.
The new federal cuts in food aid will increase demands on our food banks. Kids from poor families won’t get the nutrition they need to succeed in school. The Iowa economy will take a hit too. According to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, every $1 increase in food stamps generates about $1.70 in economic activity.
This is the United States of America. We can do better by those in need.
CUTTING SOCIAL SECURITY IS A BAD IDEA
In Iowa, we’ve worked together to ensure those who rely on Social Security can stretch their dollars farther.
The 2013 tax year is the last year any Iowan will pay state income taxes on Social Security benefits. Iowa has been phasing out taxes on Social Security since 2006, when the Legislature voted to eliminate state income taxes on Social Security benefits.
While Iowa is making progress, people in Washington are talking about cutting Social Security benefits. The last thing we should do is cut Social Security. It has become the principal lifeline for millions of seniors, especially during the recent national recession. Many Iowans are on the edge of both retirement and financial disaster.
I oppose any “Grand Bargain” in Washington that includes cuts to Social Security. It would be a bad deal for Iowans.
PREPARING ALL KIDS TO SUCCEED IN SCHOOL & LIFE
We think of education as the great equalizer, and we count on our schools to give every child a fair shot at success as an adult.
Unfortunately, some kids face bigger challenges in school than their classmates do because their families are struggling to make ends meet. The number of Iowa kids growing up in poverty is at a 50-year high, and our state’s childhood poverty rate is climbing faster than the national average. At the same time, the gap in student achievement between well-off and low-income students is now double the gap between black and white students.
According to the Workshop on Poverty, Inequality & Education, if we don’t reduce the growing inequality in academic performance between the rich and the poor, schools won’t be the great equalizer we expect them to be. To help, we’re investing in local schools to attract and retain great teachers, keep class sizes small and offer more high-quality preschools options.
But Iowa family incomes also need a boost. Last spring, we cut taxes on working families. We also expanded job-training efforts to prepare more parents for higher-skilled, better-paying work. These steps to increasing family incomes aren’t just good for the Iowa economy today, they help our kids do their best in school—and that’s good for our economy long into the future.
NEWS YOU CAN USE Make seatbelts a priority in your holiday travels
More than 50 percent of all fatalities are the result of motorists not taking the time to buckle up. Iowa law enforcement will be out in force this Thanksgiving Holiday with extra city, county and state officers ensuring traveler’s buckle up, slow down and drive responsibly. Stepped-up traffic enforcement will run through December 1 in an effort to keep Iowa’s traffic fatalities well below last year’s levels.
*Go local with your holiday shopping
Our small businesses are owned by local people, who employ our friends and neighbors. As you start looking for holiday gifts for loved ones, give your community a boost by shopping locally.
Studies show that each dollar spent at a local business generates an additional $5 to $7 in local economic activity. In addition, local small businesses make our communities thriving places by contributing to our schools, churches and community organizations.
You’ll find a great resource in the newly launched Iowa Made Network, which will help you connect with Iowa growers, creators and producers. The site, www.IowaMade.net, is a directory of close to 1,000 businesses that make things in Iowa, including art, wine, furniture, flowers and food. You can search by county, category or keyword to find what you’re looking for.
Iowa growers, creators and producers who would like to be included on the site may contact Iowa Made Network at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Online directory makes it easy to recycle, repurpose, reuse
The holiday season can generate a lot of trash. If you’re looking for an alternative to throwing it all into the garbage can, check out the Iowa Green List. It’s a searchable directory of locations that can recycle, reuse or repurpose what would otherwise end up in the landfill.
Go to www.iagreenlist.com and click on “Iowa Green List” in the left-hand column. This one-stop shop is Iowa’s ultimate recycling directory. It has more than 50 registered locations available across Iowa that accept everything from electronics to used oil filters—and new recyclers are registering their services on the site all the time.
Des Moines, IA 50319
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601