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Posts Tagged ‘liheap’

Capitol Comments

kirsten marquard

Governor Branstad takes one tiny tiptoe forward with the Anti-Bullying Proclamation but then takes ten big stomps backward.

FIRST, this week, Gov. Branstad proposed new rules (instead of legislation) allowing his administration to give $37 million dollars in tax exemptions to big corporations because we “have the money” all while vetoing $57 million for our Iowa school kids because he doesn’t believe we have the resources. We should put kids before corporations.

SECOND, Gov. Branstad also closed our two Mental Health Facilities without a good plan for the care of sick, dual diagnosed Iowans forced to move.

THIRD, he is also pushing his own privatization plan for Medicaid, which could start as soon as January, without legislative oversight and once again putting private corporation profits before the basic care needs of sick Iowans.

This is not good policymaking. There are three branches of government to maintain equal in power in Iowa. The hard work of sitting down to gather ideas from everyone, working through problems to form policy with solutions moving the state forward is hard work but worthy of this great state. Forcing policies through, vetoing at the last minute, and moving legislation by rule-making may be fast and dirty work for the short term, but Iowa overall is not better-off. I and others will continue to do what we can to move this state forward. We have to do better!

Domestic Violence Hotline Phone Number Changed

The following information is an excerpt from an Iowa Domestic press release: The Iowa Domestic Violence HelpLine (formerly the Iowa State Domestic Violence Hotline) has changed its phone number to:

The statewide HelpLine will have advocates available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist victims and survivors with the resources and shelter they need to escape an abusive situation. It is also available for friends, family or concerned citizens to call for assistance and guidance if they have witnessed or suspect intimate partner violence is happening to someone they know. For more info:

Governor’s Plan to Privatize Medicaid Moves Forward

There are big changes coming to Medicaid as we know it in Iowa because the Governor has decided to push Iowa to privatization.

The Governor moved on his own to make these changes and unfortunately the Iowa Legislature has no ability to stop or slow the process between the Governor and the federal government (CMS). The federal government is the only way to stop or slow down the Governor’s privatization plan at this point. My concerns include giving a private company (which has been plagued with problems handling health services in other states) the ability to collect administration fees that are much higher than our current state administered plan. That, coupled with smaller amounts of money appropriated for Medicaid, can only lead to reduction of critical healthcare services for Iowans.

To learn more or to voice objections to the privatization of Medicaid in Iowa consider attending a few public meetings listed in the link below. You have to be registered to attend meeting, so please check out The “IA Health Link Kick-Off Meetings” will host two Linn County meetings:

Friday October 16, 2015 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Kirkwood Community College – Hotel Kirkwood Ballroom A & F (7725 Kirkwood Boulevard SW Cedar Rapids, IA)
Other meetings throughout the state can be found at the link.

Editor’s note: Iowa Senate democrats will be holding listening posts throughout the state on the Medicaid prioritization. A list of listening posts is here

Home Heating Assistance Available

Winter is coming soon. Iowans who are at least 60 years old or are disabled and meet certain income guidelines can apply for assistance for their home heating bills starting October 1. All other persons, with certain income restrictions can apply starting November 1.

Contact your local Community Action Agency (CAA) for more info: or call 515-281-0859. This assistance called LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is limited to Iowans whose income is below $20,597 (single) or $27,878 (couple). This program goes until April 30, 2016 for those who are accepted. If a household qualifies for LIHEAP, they are automatically qualified for the weatherization federal program. This program uses federal funds to assist homeowners with winterizing and could include insulation or even a new furnace. For more info contact your local Community Action Agency (see website above).

Office of Bullying Prevention Created

The Governor has signed an executive order creating the Office of Bullying Prevention at UNI. The executive order assigns administrative functions under current law for the Office of Bullying Prevention, but also directs the Office to work with the Department of Education (DE) to address other bullying issues.

Those issues include:
• Resolving inconsistencies in the reporting of bullying incidents by schools.
• Developing guidelines on cyberbullying.
• Giving schools greater authority to address bullying incidents off school grounds.
• Ensuring access to training (available electronically or other means).
• Promoting an existing 24 hour hotline.
• Working with the DE to develop parental notification procedures.
• Creating a taskforce to look at the issue of allowing students previously subject to harassment or bullying to open enroll and participate immediately in varsity interscholastic sports.
• Promoting of a student mentoring program.

The Governor has indicated that his budget request will include funding for this newly created Office of Bullying Prevention. To read the actual proclamation check here.

Dems Offer Compromise On School Fun: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

note: this is an edited version of the weekly newsletter. For the full newsletter please go here

In an effort to break a lengthy logjam on school funding at the Statehouse this session, Democrats offered a compromise funding proposal this week for Iowa schools, students, parents and teachers.

Earlier this session, Senate Democrats approved a 4 percent increase in basic school funding, but House Republicans agreed to a much smaller 1.25 percent increase for our schools. That is not enough to keep up with rising costs, let alone compete with other states.

Our schools need to know what to expect so that they can prepare their budgets and make decisions about staffing and course offerings. That’s why we offered a compromise proposal to increase basic school funding next school year by 2.625 percent — exactly halfway between the Senate’s 4 percent and the House’s 1.25 percent.

With a 6 percent increase in state revenues next year, we can afford this compromise. More accurately, we can’t afford to NOT approve this compromise. Iowa is already more than $1,600 below the national average in annual per-pupil investment. The result is that other states are increasing student achievement faster than Iowa and out-performing us.

The compromise proposal was an attempt to break a logjam that is spilling into its third month. Legislative Republicans have refused to budge from their position throughout meetings of a special conference committee tasked with resolving the impasse on school funding set out in SF 171 and SF 172.

Unfortunately, Republicans on the conference committee refused our compromise offer and continue to insist on an increase of only 1.25 percent for our local schools. Widespread reports from local school districts tell us that a meager 1.25 percent increase they insist on would result in more crowded classrooms, fewer course offerings and extracurricular activities, and higher property taxes.

I urge concerned Iowans, including parents, students, teachers and administrators, to contact your legislators and the Governor. Encourage them to do the right thing for Iowa’s future by investing in our students and schools.

Last December, Governor Branstad’s administration told superintendents they would no longer get waivers to start school early, meaning schools would have to start fall classes during the week of September 1. The Governor’s decision to end local control of school start dates immediately created a big problem for schools and parents.

Last fall, 67 Iowa school districts started fall semester classes during the second week of August.

Senate File 227 is a compromise that sets the school start date on or after August 23. It was approved this week by both the House and the Senate.

This legislative compromise ends a major distraction, which has taken attention away from this session’s most important, most pressing education issue: Renewing Iowa’s bipartisan commitment to responsibly investing in our local students and schools.

School funding affects 100 percent of Iowa schoolchildren, parents and teachers, as well as employers and community leaders. We must provide the funding our schools need to boost student achievement and keep the best teachers in our classrooms.

Our veterans deserve to know all the benefits and programs they qualify for. That’s why the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted this week to help veterans access information on ways to apply for benefits they have earned through their military service.

House File 414 won unanimous approval in the Iowa House on March 17. The bill requires that private individuals or businesses offering to help veterans get their benefits for a fee must give all prospective clients a written statement disclosing that veterans may apply for these same services at no charge through a local service organization or county offices. Before entering into an agreement or contract, the veteran must sign the disclosure statement.

The Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs will develop a consumer friendly written disclosure for use by private providers of benefits services for veterans. It will include a statement that veterans benefits services are offered at no cost by federally chartered veteran service organizations and by county commission of veteran affairs offices, and will have contact information on how to access those free services.

A person who violates these requirements faces a maximum civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation. Any civil penalties recovered will be deposited in the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund.

For more information on this or other programs for veterans, contact the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs at 515-252-4698 or go to

Celebrate National Donate Life Month
Join the Iowa Donor Network in recognizing National Donate Life Month this April, a chance to motivate more people to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. You can become a donor by registering at

There is a big need: An average of 21 people on the organ transplant waiting list die each day; more than 123,000 people are on the waiting list, enough to fill Kinnick and Jack Trice stadiums. In addition, about 600 Iowans are waiting for a life-saving transplant.

Donors make a huge impact. One donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and can enhance the lives of as many as 200 people through tissue donation. The Iowa Donor Network helped transplant 216 life-saving organs in 2014 with tissue from 982 donors.

Heating moratorium ends
The winter home heating moratorium on service disconnections ends April 1. If you are having difficulty paying your energy utility bills, contact your local utility to discuss payment options to avoid service disconnections.

Beginning April 2, customers certified for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or Home Weatherization Program could be subject to electric or natural gas service disconnection for unpaid bills. LIHEAP funds are limited, but applications are still being accepted by local Community Action Agencies through April 30.

For more information about low-income energy assistance, go to

The Courtney Report

Courtney Report
As a member of the State Government Committee, I participated in a meeting with Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. We wanted to know how three valid Iowa ballots in the 2012 election ended up not being counted. What we’ve learned so far tells me that we have some work to do to prevent this type of voter disenfranchisement from happening again.

Iowans expect our elections to be secure, accurate and efficient. After all, our democracy is based on citizens making their voices heard.

That’s why it came as a big disappointment when the Cerro Gordo County Auditor brought to our attention that the 2012 general election ballots of three voters in his county had had been wrongly thrown out because of inaccurate information provided by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. The auditor told us that these individuals had had their voting rights restored and that their votes should have counted.

If three voters in one county could be disenfranchised, how many individuals could this happen to statewide? It is the Legislature’s responsibility to make sure that Secretary of State Matt Schultz, as the state commissioner of elections, does a better job of ensuring that the ballots of all eligible voters are counted.

Iowans are proud of their high levels of voter participation, so it is of utmost importance that we take measures to protect the integrity of our system. In recent years, Iowa has made many improvements to our voting process, including allowing voters to register on Election Day at the polls. As a result, Iowa ranked fifth in voter turnout in the 2012 General Election with 73.3 percent of registered voters casting their ballot.

Iowa educators tell us that predictable, sustained state investment in education is the most effective way to increase student achievement.

That’s why I voted this week for a 6 percent increase in local school funding for the 2015-16 school year (SF 2079 and SF 2077). This money would pay for the basics: up-to-date textbooks, heating bills, teacher salaries and gas for the buses. We also approved additional state dollars to prevent any related property tax increase (SF 2078).

Developing the state budget is the one thing I am required to do in my job as a state senator, and the largest part of that budget goes to education. State law requires us to set school funding 18 months ahead of the academic year so that school boards, administrators and educators can plan for local needs and make the best use of state resources.

A 6 percent increase would be welcome news for our local schools. It would help them bounce back from several lean years while also implementing the education reforms we approved in 2013. Since 2011, school funding in Iowa has suffered. As a result, our state has fallen to 37th in the nation when it comes to per pupil spending. Iowa is more than $1,500 below the national average in terms of how much we invest in each student.

However, we have the money to reverse this trend. Our reserve accounts are full at more than $650 million, and we have a surplus of $842 million. The major U.S. financial rating agencies all give Iowa the highest rating of AAA. Only seven other states match us with an across-the-board AAA rating.

Now is the time to invest wisely in student achievement. If the House and Governor also approve the legislation we passed in the Senate, here’s how much our local school districts will get for the 2015-16 school year:
(editor’s note: I could not get the table to transfer to this format. Here are a couple of examples:

School District FY 2016 (estimate) Change from FY 2015 (estimate)
Muscatine $48,896,010 $2,567,231
Burlington $43,736,443 $2,374,987
West Liberty $11,076,032 $813,624

With this week’s vote on school funding, the Senate obeyed state law requiring the Legislature to set education funding 18 months in advance of the school year. I hope the House and Governor will follow our lead. We must put politics aside, follow the law and support the students who are the future of a strong state economy.

The Legislature is expected to set school funding within 30 days after the Governor presents his state budget. For the 2014 session, the deadline is February 13.

Iowa superintendents overwhelmingly believe state lawmakers should meet that deadline and set funding for the 2015-16 school year, as the law requires. In a recent survey, 98 percent of the 214 superintendents who responded oppose the House and Governor’s plan to wait until next year to decide on funding.

In recent years, the House and Governor have defied the advance budgeting law, allowing K-12 education funding to become entangled with other issues and even held hostage for reasons unrelated to students or schools. The message we’re hearing from superintendents this year is clear: Don’t delay school funding again! Nearly every superintendent (99 percent) we surveyed said education dollars would be used more effectively if lawmakers followed the law and set school funding well in advance.

We’ve made some big changes with recent education reforms. Now we must provide financial stability so schools can successfully enact those changes and make sure all Iowa kids graduate with the skills to land a good job. Asked how they would use our proposed 6 percent increase in basic school funding, school superintendents said strengthening reading and writing skills in elementary students, implementing Iowa’s common core curriculum and reducing class sizes are their top priorities.

For more on our survey of Iowa school superintendents and what they had to say about school funding, go to

I met Andrea Scott and congratulated her on the Excellence in Mentoring award from the State of Iowa. This award is the most prestigious honor that mentors in Iowa can receive. Andrea began as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Muscatine County in 2008. She and her little sister, Zayla, joined us for Mentoring Day on the Hill. Big Brothers Big Sisters matches youth at risk with a “Big” who can have a positive impact on their “Little.”

In an effort to help more Iowa employers and workers recover from the national recession, we must increase access to high-quality Internet services across the state.

Iowa ranks 11th out of 12 Midwestern states in the TechNet State Broadband Index, which ranks states based on how many households use broadband, network speeds and the number of jobs that benefit from broadband technology.

Broadband is currently underused in Iowa. According to a survey from Connect Iowa, 71 percent of Iowa households have adopted broadband, but only 47 percent can access broadband at high speed (50 Mbps). Broadband is used even less by low-income families, rural households and senior citizens. Among Iowa businesses, about 23,000 are not using high-speed Internet services.

Broadband can be a powerful economic tool for Iowans and businesses. Better broadband access, particularly in rural areas, could spur economic development through job creation and business expansion.

That’s why legislators in the House and Senate are looking at ways to improve access broadband in Iowa. Under a Senate proposal, companies could get tax breaks if they invest in broadband infrastructure. The bill also would establish a loan fund for businesses making broadband investments.

In September, Governor Branstad announced a new broadband initiative, Connect Every Iowan. A task force made up of stakeholders and legislators met to discuss broadband connectivity issues, as well as how we can increase access to and use of broadband throughout Iowa. To view the task force’s report and learn more about Iowa’s work to expand broadband, go


The Senate Appropriations Committee this week approved additional help for low-income Iowans struggling to pay their home heating bills during this exceptionally cold winter.

SSB 3137
would provide $2 million to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps offset heating costs for low-income families. The additional money will help address emergencies, including fixing broken furnaces and carrying out emergency fuel deliveries for families in need.

Last year, LIHEAP assisted more than 85,000 Iowa households. As of December, more than 60,000 households had already received assistance through LIHEAP this fiscal year. About 10 percent of LIHEAP recipients depend on propane to heat their homes, with 150 gallons of propane lasting about two weeks in January.

The supplemental assistance approved in the state senate is due to the spike in propane fuel costs. Throughout Iowa, propane is three to four times the usual price, reaching more than $6 per gallon in parts of Iowa. Usually, propane is about $1.79 a gallon.

The federal government is also responding to the need. The U.S. Department of Human & Health Services released a second LIHEAP appropriation of close to $7.5 million to help Iowa families heat their homes during this cold weather.

Iowans with questions or concerns should check out the state’s new Propane Shortage and Heating Assistance Webpage. It has detailed information about LIHEAP, energy and cost-saving tips, safe heating alternatives and other resources.

During the first five years of life, children begin to gain the emotional and social skills that enable them to thrive in school and in life. These skills form the foundation for “healthy mental development,” the ability of children to regulate and express emotions, form relationships with others, and explore and learn in their surroundings.

Without a solid foundation of healthy mental development early in life, children are at higher risk for poor school performance, juvenile delinquency and adult mental health concerns later in life.

Iowa’s 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative is a public-private partnership that brings together physicians and public service providers to promote healthy mental development among Iowa’s children from birth to age five. The initiative encourages pediatricians and primary care providers to use proven tools to gauge a child’s progress during well-child visits. At-risk kids can then get the help they need, when local children’s health agencies and early intervention services assist the family in optimizing their children’s mental development.

The Health & Human Services Budget Committee learned this week about last year’s efforts to expand this program from 33 to 49 counties. With continued support of the 1st Five Initiative, we can ensure that all Iowa children begin life with a good chance to achieve school readiness, academic success and overall well-being.

Between 2007 and 2012, health care providers referred close to 5,000 families to 1st Five. In that time, the program helped an estimated 77,000 children. Getting more health providers involved is key. About 93 percent of health providers include comprehensive developmental assessments in their well-child appointments after becoming involved in 1st Five.

Learn more about how 1st Five is helping Iowa kids and families at


Protect land with REAP grants

More than $200,000 in cost-share grants is available to help conservation organizations acquire land for additional outdoor recreation opportunities and to protect critical habitat. Recent projects include additions to Pine Lake State Park, Pictured Rocks Wildlife Management Area and the Loess Hills Wildlife Area.

Through the cost-share arrangement, 75 percent of the acquisition costs come from Resource Enhancement and Protection, and the remaining 25 percent comes from private contributions. The Department of Natural Resources owns and manages the property that is jointly purchased on behalf of the public.

For an application and complete details, go to and click on “REAP Grants” in the left column. Applications are due March 14.

How much should students borrow for college?

Iowa Student Loan wants to help students avoid excessive debt by educating them about the risks of over-borrowing and how to reduce the need to borrow. At the Iowa Student Loan website, students can learn about their return on college investment.

The ROCI (Return on College Investment) Reality Check is an online tutorial that allows students to compare various types of jobs, their associated starting salaries and the future demand and probability they’ll get the job. It helps students set realistic expectations for how much they might earn after college and how much they should borrow for college. Access the free tool at

Contact Tom
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319

2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601

The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

I always want to hear your ideas for improving state government. After all, I work for you. You can e-mail or call me any time.

You may also want to check out “Public Input: Improving State Government” on the Iowa Legislature’s website: This public comment page was set up in 2009 for Iowans to submit ideas or view the suggestions of others.

Every two years, a State Government Efficiency Review Committee, made up of 10 legislators, meets to review state government operations and consider ways to modernize processes, eliminate unnecessary work, reduce costs and increase accountability.

The public comment page is one of the resources legislators use to come up with recommendations for making state government more efficient and responsive to Iowans’ needs.

During the federal government shutdown, I get many questions about how things are working at the state level. I’m proud to say the state of Iowa is open for business.

Legislators are focused on making state government work for Iowa citizens. We’re always looking for ways to ensure government runs efficiently and offers good service to Iowans.

In fact, Iowa is considered the fifth best run state in the country, according to 24/7 Wall Street. Our strong agricultural economy, falling unemployment, excellent credit rating and well-managed budget give Iowa its good financial health, standard of living and government services.

This year, legislators continued our push for a leaner, more transparent government that is responsive to Iowans’ needs by:

1. Balancing the state budget without raising taxes. Iowa has a budget surplus of about $721 million. We also have $649 million in our reserve funds. That’s the largest amount in state history and the eighth best in the country, according to a national report by the Tax Foundation.

2. Cutting taxes to create jobs and spur economic growth. The tax reforms we approved this year include reducing commercial property taxes for all Iowa businesses while helping small businesses the most. We also voted to put some of our budget surplus back into the pockets of Iowa taxpayer and help low-income Iowans work their way out of poverty by boosting the state Earned Income Tax Credit.

3. Standing up for citizens’ right to know. Iowans now have a free, efficient method to ensure government officials comply with Iowa’s open meetings and records laws. The newly formed Iowa Public Information Board helps citizens with questions and concerns about their rights to information. In addition, we’re developing an online database that will allow Iowans to search the state’s budget expenditures and tax revenue to see how their tax dollars are spent.

4. Improving customer service and saving money through efficiencies. New initiatives include an online driver’s license renewal system and giving Iowans the option to show proof of insurance on their electronic driving record rather than carrying the documentation. These and other cost-saving efforts at the Iowa Department of Transportation are freeing up more of your tax dollars to fix our roads.

One of the best ways we can expand Iowa’s middle class is by making higher education more affordable.

That’s why the Legislature approved funding to freeze tuition this fall. It was the first time in more than 30 years that tuition didn’t increase for Iowa undergrads at our state universities—University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University. In September, the Iowa Board of Regents agreed to continue the tuition freeze next year if state support increased significantly. I’m also keeping my eye on community college tuition and fees, which increased by an average of 2.8 percent this fall.

During the recession, tuition costs and student debt both skyrocketed in Iowa while the state’s investment in higher education fell by almost 25 percent. Iowa ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to the debt load of our college graduates, according to new data from College InSight. Today, 72 percent of college students in Iowa borrow to finance their education. By the time they graduate, they’ve racked up an average of $28,753 in debt.

Freezing tuition by controlling costs and increasing state investment is much better than asking struggling families to take out even more student loans. For the last three years, Senate Democrats have led the push to invest more in our state universities and community colleges. I hope we can again reach a compromise that will allow us to extend the tuition freeze at our state universities and keep our community colleges affordable.

Apply for Rural Arts Grants

Through November 1, the Iowa Arts Council is accepting applications for Rural Arts Development Grants, which provide up to $5,000 to arts projects in rural Iowa. Eligible applicants include nonprofit organizations, schools, tribal councils, and local, county, state and federal government agencies. Complete details and an application are available at

Apply for health care coverage

You can now explore your new health care options and apply for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace at Coverage starts as early as January 1, 2014. The Marketplace will automatically tell you if you qualify for discounts or state programs based on your income.

You can choose the health plan that’s right for you through the online plan comparison tool. If you don’t have access to a computer or need assistance, dial the 24/7 call center at 1-800-318-2596.

Tips for staying safe online

Throughout October, Iowans are encouraged to increase their cyber security. Cyber Security Awareness Month is a national campaign to educate the public, businesses, schools and government agencies about avoiding cyber security threats, as well as ways to secure their part of cyber space, computers and our nation’s critical infrastructure.

At, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team offers helpful ideas and resources for keeping your home and work computers safe. You’ll get the information you need to:

• Stay safe on social networking sites

• Choose and protect passwords

• Prevent and respond to identity theft

• Effectively erase files

Need help with your heating bill?

As the weather turns colder, low-income Iowa homeowners and renters can get help paying their heating costs. The 2013-14 Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides assistance based on household income, household size, type of fuel and type of housing. For complete details, call 515-281-0859 or go to

State parks are open for fall fun

Good news: State parks are OPEN during the federal government shutdown!

Fall in Iowa is a great time to enjoy the outdoors. Take advantage of the beautiful days by heading to one of our state parks. For a listing of state parks, go to

Keep in mind, anything under federal control—facilities run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Monuments, Federal Refuges and other federal areas—are closed during the federal shutdown.

Contact Tom
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319

2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601

Farm Bill Forum in Johnson County

Representatives Peterson and Loebsack

Representatives Peterson and Loebsack

On Saturday, July 27, Rep. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-07), ranking member of the house agriculture committee, held a farm bill forum at the Johnson County Extension Office. Over 40 people attended, and a lot of ground was covered related to the farm bill, how the U.S. Congress works (or doesn’t), and during an open question and answer period with discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), change in the agriculture committee makeup after the 2010 election, crop insurance, conservation, rural development, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), the renewable fuel standard and target prices for direct payments for wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton and rice. The forum was a primer for anyone who wanted to learn the recent history of the farm bill.

Rep. Loebsack said, “last year was the time to pass the farm bill.” Congress extended the 2007 farm bill for a year, and that extension expires on Sept. 30. Representatives of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Corn Growers Association present at the forum indicated they did not want another extension. One audience member pointed to a $50,000 direct payment he would receive this year he didn’t need and didn’t want. Loebsack attributed the situation to the failure of congress to pass a new farm bill last year.

Rep. Peterson said the agriculture committee members had reached a bipartisan agreement last year, but the problem was (and remains) the Republican leadership. He was more specific, saying “it wasn’t Speaker Boehner… he never got in the way.” He added, Eric Cantor is the problem, “he’s the guy who screwed this thing up in the house.”

Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, entreated the congressmen to take the political spin out of SNAP because it was destructive to families who depend upon the $1.30 per person per meal the program provides. A food pantry volunteer added, “it’s not just SNAP.” The farm bill impacts food pantries, meals on wheels and other nutrition programs people rely upon. Rep. Peterson was direct, “there will be more SNAP cuts (in order to pass a farm bill).”

The clock is ticking on getting a farm bill passed by Oct. 1. After this week, congress begins the August recess, reconvening on Sept. 8 or 9. The U.S. Senate has formally requested a conference committee, but house members have not been appointed. According to Peterson, they may not be until after the recess. There is time, but not any extra.

The framework for the farm bill has been set by the U.S. Senate version, for which the entire Iowa delegation voted. Passing the farm bill comes down to the U.S. Congress doing their work, something at which they have been less than effective. Also something could go wrong between now and Oct. 1 to stop the farm bill from moving, according to Peterson.

After the farm bill failed last year, Peterson said, speaking of the Republican house majority, “you guys have finally made me a partisan.” If SNAP is cut completely by the conference committee and replaced with block grants, as some conservatives want, the Democratic house delegation is expected to walk away, and the farm bill would expire. Well funded groups like the Heritage Foundation, Club for Growth, the Wall Street Journal and others have lobbied hard to cut SNAP, get rid of conservation and rural development programs, and crop insurance.

If readers are interested in more information about any of these topics, please post a comment below, and I’ll reply with any relevant information from the forum.

Romney Lies? Who’da Thunk It?

How do you know he’s lying? His lips are moving!

Paul Krugman in his blog  says what many people have been waiting for someone to say:

“I mean, is there anything at all in Romney’s stump speech that’s true? It’s all based on attacking Obama for apologizing for America, which he didn’t, on making deep cuts in defense, which he also didn’t, and on being a radical redistributionist who wants equality of outcomes, which he isn’t. When the issue turns to jobs, Romney makes false assertions both about Obama’s record and about his own. I can’t find a single true assertion anywhere.”

Couldn’t agree with him more.Sometimes I have wanted to scream at some reporter “Are you just going to let him lie and not say a thing? What is your job? Secretary?

The human costs of Republican administrations

Seems like every Republican administration moves the clock for equality backwards in this country. Well, at least since Nixon who signed the Title IX provisions that have given young women many opportunities that never would have happened left to their own devices.

I simply can’t understand why taking citizenship rights from groups of people is not only tolerated, but voted for. Why can’t gays have the same rights as others? Why can’t all citizens vote?

We fall further behind every year

In a poll released the other day, Americans overwhelmingly stated they believescience is the key to the future.
Yet at election time, from school boards to the state house and the US congress, they continue to vote in candidates who cut the hell out of education and try to force schools to equate science with religion.

As our youth is less and less educated in science, America’s once formidable lead in this area has drastically shrunk. The telling point may not come for another 25 years, but we all know this will cost us dearly.

Sears going ….. going …..?

Thursday Sears was put in the position of essentially paying up front for vendor shipments. The ability for vendors to make ‘loans’ was cut off.

Maybe I am wrong but it looks like that vaunted staple of America free enterprise – competition – is about to take another shot in the chops. Slowly we will be forced to shop in stores like Walmart and Target. It is sad.

She sold the WHAT? And she wants to BUY IT BACK???

Governor Jan Brewer may have hit a new high (low?) in fiscal mismanagement in Arizona. First they sold the state capitol to pick some quick cash ($81 million) and now, little over a year later she wants to buy it back. And it will cost a cool $105 million. That is a $24 million mark-up in a year. Take some more money out of education.
You need to read this

And now to endear himself with Latinos

Mitt Romney got an endorsement from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Koback. Koback is the author of model anti-immigrant legislation fro ALEC after which Arizona’s repugnant SB1070 and Alabama’s new anti-immigrant laws are modeled. Despite trying, Romney was unable to get the endorsement of Maricopa County, Arizona’s notorious Joe Arpaio. Arpaio went for Rick Perry.

Winter is finally cold and LIHEAP is won’t be helping much

I heard Jerry McKim speaking about LIHEAP on IPR yesterday. Real winter cold is just settling in. LIHEAP money has been slashed by congress and on down the line awards for those who apply will be cut. McKim said there will be something for all that apply, but with less money, higher costs for fuel and now real winter temps it probably won’t help the way it was intended. (See here for previous story)

Since no one can have their heat cut until April 1, most people will be okay. The problem comes next year when anyone who has an outstanding debt to whoever sells them heat will not be allowed to be hooked up again.  Reminder that much of the so-called debt reduction is on the backs of those it will hurt most.

Gas going higher?

Let’s face it, if one thing could kill any recovery and at the same time kill an Obama run for re-election, it would be a huge spike in the price of gas. And the rumors are already floating about a major run up in price this spring. I have believed that much of the pricing of oil has been manipulated for many years. No one has yet had the political will to take on the oil companies assertions on their prices. This could really blindside Americans and make voters quite angry.

LIHEAP: Where Republican Tax Policies Really Hurt

A few weeks ago, I made a reference to LIHEAP in my story concerning my experiment in heating with corn. The reference was only a passing thought after I had pretty much written the body of the story. So I followed my curiosity and made some calls to see what I could find about LIHEAP and its current status.

What I found was as expected somewhat depressing. While Boehner, Cantor and McConnell whine and cry about the impoverished multi-millionaire “job creator,” real Iowans will be facing a real winter with bone-numbing cold without enough money or aid to pay for a winter’s worth of heat.

‘LIHEAP’ is the acronym for Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program.” LIHEAP was established in 1981 to help low income Americans pay for heating and cooling bills that at that time were causing shock due to the quickly rising cost of energy. Since then we have learned that purchasing power of most households has remained static while cost of energy has continued rising to record levels. So LIHEAP has become an increasing necessity for many low income households. However, the trend since 2000 has been to cut safety net programs such as LIHEAP to pay for tax cuts which have been mostly geared to high income or high wealth households.

This year of course the budget battle has stressed debt reduction without accompanying tax raises, thus placing the reduction on program cutting. Programs being cut are mostly those which are of the safety net variety.

With that background, LIHEAP for fiscal 2010 – 2011 was funded at ~ $5 billion. This budget year that funding has been greatly reduced. The Obama Administration proposed cutting the funding in half. That was even too much for congress. While a budget has yet to be passed the continuing resolutions have allowed some LIEAP money to be released to the states. At the pace LIHEAP is being funded on the continuing resolutions the cut will be ~$1.3 billion or about 25%.

Much of the information I have comes from Jerry McKim who is Iowa’s LIHEAP Director. Mr. McKim was quite forthcoming with information. It was pretty obvious that he was quite frustrated by the cutbacks and delays in funding. He deals with the people who feel the pain of the cold.

LIHEAP comes to the states as a block grant and is then portioned on a first come, first served basis. Assistance is offered to those meeting poverty guidelines. Last year Iowa received ~ $71 million. It currently looks like Iowa will be receiving ~ $50 million this year.

Each award is based on various factors such as poverty level, personal factors (such as age, children, health etc.) and fuel type. No award would cover the whole cost of heat for a winter. It currently looks like that award will be reduced by the percentage less that Iowa gets. For example, if a person received $500 last year, this year’s award would be about 25% less or about $375. Since the cost of the heat has gone up, the gap between the assistance and the actual bill must be paid by the individual.

Fortunately, it is against the law for a customer to be disconnected until March 31st. Unfortunately, if the payment is still in arrears come the next November 1st, there is no law that says those that are disconnected must be reconnected for the winter. This leads to a certain number of households disconnected through the next winter. Mr. McKim said this number of Iowa households without heat in a given winter is around 8,700. My guess is that that is about equal to a small city like Marshalltown. To me this is a disgrace. The Iowa Utility board disconnection/ reconnection numbers can be found here.

Here are some sobering facts to think about as you sit in front of the TV this weekend. This is from a press release passed on by Mr. McKim:

State LIHEAP Directors Release 2011 National Survey
Contact: Mark Wolfe, 202-320-9046
November 1, 2011

Record Heating Oil Prices Place Millions of Poor Families at Risk
New Study Shows Finds that LIHEAP Families are Disproportionally Poor Elderly, Disabled and have Young Children

The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) representing the state directors of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) released the results of their annual survey of LIHEAP recipients.

Key Findings:

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is the most comprehensive federal program that helps low-income families meet their immediate home energy needs. The average LIHEAP benefit covers about half the cost of home heating, or $450 per year per household. Approximately 8.9 million low-income families received assistance in FY 2011; approximately 10 million households are expected to apply for assistance in FY 2012.

Both the House and Senate appropriation bills would cut LIHEAP between $1.1 billion (Senate) and $1.3 billion (House) from the FY 2011 level of $4.7 billion. The impact of both bills would be dramatic; an estimated 1.6 million very vulnerable households would be cut from the program.

In order to obtain a comprehensive demographic picture of LIHEAP recipients and the characteristics of those who are helped as well as who would be hurt by the program cuts, NEADA conducted a survey of approximately 1,800 households that received LIHEAP benefits in FY 2011. The results show that LIHEAP households are among the vulnerable in the country.

In fact, nearly 90 percent of LIHEAP recipient households have at least one vulnerable member—defined as someone age 60 or older, age 18 or younger, or disabled.

Additional findings underscore the fact that, for these households, a loss of heat or electricity in the winter could have serious health and safety implications.

LIHEAP Households Are Among the Most Vulnerable in the Country

· 40 percent have someone age 60 or older

· 72 percent have a family member with a serious medical condition

· 26 percent use medical equipment that requires electricity

· 37 percent went without medical or dental care

· 34 percent did not fill a prescription or took less than their full dose of prescribed medication

· 19 percent became sick because the home was too cold

· 85 percent of people with a medical condition are seniors

Other key facts reported by the study:

· 45% reported that their energy bills were more than $2,000 in the past year.

· 35% were unemployed at some point during the year.

· 52% said that energy bills were more difficult to pay than in the previous year and 48% of those who said that it was more difficult to pay their energy bills reported that the main reason was their financial situation.

· LIHEAP benefits decreased since the previous year due to the smaller appropriation in FY 2011. Mean heating benefits were $429 in FY 2011, compared to $483 in FY 2009.

· Many LIHEAP recipients were unable to pay their energy bills. 49% skipped paying or paid less than their entire home energy bill, 37% received a notice or threat to disconnect or discontinue their electricity or home heating fuel, 11% had their electric or natural gas service shut off in the past year due to nonpayment, 24% were unable to use their main source of heat in the past year because their fuel was shut off, they could not pay for fuel delivery, or their heating system was broken and they could not afford to fix it and 17% were unable to use their air conditioner in the past year because their electricity was shut off or their air conditioner was broken and they could not afford to fix it.

Post-Thanksgiving Hash

Like many folks, we are taking some time away to visit family for this holiday. We have one child at one end of the Mississippi and another at the other end. So we will be heading south with one set to visit the other. More than likely there will be lots of politics discussed on the trip.

VanderPlaats picks the winners

After the interviews for the Republican bishop’s — er uh — presidential candidate’s job last weekend, it looks like the VanderPlaats group had to disappoint some potential crown wannabes. So if your last name isn’t Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann or Santorum, you are not the stuff that Christian presidents are made of.

Which name doesn’t fit there?

In the previous list, does anyone notice that one peron seems to be a bit out of the stream that the others swim in? Maybe when it comes to being holy and religious and pious and humble, Newt is not only in another stream, but on another continent. Shows what a true joke Bob VanderPlaats and his puppets are playing on Iowans. VanderPlaats wants to be a king maker, and wants to be on the inside. For that purpose he is more than willing to make a laughing stock out of all that his organization, “The Family Leader” supposedly stands for. Who knows? Maybe he can be the next Mrs. Newt.

Iowa Independent closes

I was listening to the noon show on IPR Tuesday to hear the discussion of current journalism and the new media. (BTW, I do not pretend to be a journalist.) The second half-hour included an interview with Lynda Waddington of the Iowa Independent, an online news source. Lynda shocked us with the news that as of last Friday, they were no longer in business. So sad to hear that yet another independent source for news has gone. Thanks to Iowa Independent for its years of service.


A couple of weeks ago in an opening paragraph to a story I wrote on my corn stove, I mentioned LIHEAP or Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program. When the budget battles began in earnest last year one of the very first casualties was LIHEAP.  I intend to do a full story on my conversations with LIHEAP’s Iowa director, Jerry McKim next week when I have time.  But as the weather inevitably cools after Thanksgiving, I just wanted to put the thought of LIHEAP in people’s minds. The budget for LIHEAP was cut drastically while prices for energy have not fallen. Awards for help will most likely be smaller this year which will no doubt result in more disconnections next spring. More next week.

Iowa College Football

OK, I can’t help myself here. I am one who cheers for all three of Iowa’s public universities in athletic endeavors. So Friday and Saturday made for a really sweet weekend last week. We got home from a charity affair late Friday night. I had forgotten ISU was playing Oklahoma State that night. When I turned it on and saw the score (24 – 10 at the time) I thought – well, maybe it could happen. I fought sleep to see Woody go in for the score to win. What a sweet way to end the day.
Next day Iowa takes it to Purdue. And Northern Iowa wins another exciting game to move into the football championship playoffs for division 1AA.  I think the Hawkeyes can beat Nebraska. Can the Cylones become the champion of Oklahoma?  That would be great. And as always, the Panthers are tough come tournament time……