Hunger in the heartland: Iowans struggle with food insecurity

Jessica Chrystal shines a light on a widespread problem in a state that is supposed to be the bread basket of the world. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I spent part of last week attending events at the World Food Prize in Des Moines. When we think of hunger, we think of homeless people on benches in California. The Salvation Army bell ringer standing outside of Target during Christmas, or the glowing images from our tvs of starving children to donate to various charities overseas.

Rarely do we think of our neighbor next door.

Hunger is everywhere. She’s part of the fabric of every map dot town and big city across Iowa.

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Defunding Planned Parenthood will deal another blow to human services budget

The multimillion-dollar cost of excluding Planned Parenthood as a provider in Iowa’s new family planning program will come directly out of the health and human services budget, Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider has confirmed to Bleeding Heartland. Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad have committed to creating a fully state-run program because federal rules do not allow states to disqualify Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver. Under that waiver, federal funds have covered 90 percent of the Iowa Family Planning Network’s costs for many years.

In contrast, the state will be on the hook for every dollar spent on the new family planning services program. According to a fiscal note prepared by non-partisan legislative staff, that program is estimated to “increase General Fund expenditures by $2.1 million in FY 2018 and $3.1 million when implemented for a full year in FY 2019.”

The governor proposed using part of Iowa’s federal Social Services Block Grant funding to cover that cost, which is consistent with spending bills House Republicans approved during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions.

Instead, “a general fund appropriation in the health and human services budget” will pay for the new family planning program, Schneider said during an interview following the April 8 legislative forum in Waukee. After reviewing the proposal from the governor’s office, he explained, he chose to file “our own [bill] that didn’t take the money from the Social Services Block Grant.”

It’s understandable that Republican appropriators rejected Branstad’s idea. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, the Social Services Block Grant is not a reliable funding stream. The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee leader has called for eliminating the grant, and House Republicans voted to do so last year.

But Republican plans to give up millions of federal family planning dollars look even more foolish now than they did a few months ago, when one considers Iowa’s worsening state revenue picture and the huge spending cuts already inflicted on human services.

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State, federal legislation will impact Iowans in need

Becci Reedus, executive director of The Crisis Center of Johnson County, wants state and federal lawmakers to remember that “prevention almost always ends up being cheaper than treatment.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

Our politicians and policymakers will face many important decisions in the coming months. Now more than ever, those leaders need to hear from all of us about the issues impacting our community.

As executive director of The Crisis Center of Johnson County, one of my jobs is to educate our policymakers and the public about the needs of the people we serve. Our programs help thousands of people with diverse needs, but there are some common themes we see among our clients.

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Iowa Senate district 42: Nothing to see here--unless Trump has big coattails

Iowa is blessed with an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts, thanks to our non-partisan redistricting process. Most election years, at least half a dozen Iowa Senate seats and twice as many House seats are in play. Campaign finance reports showing where candidates and party leaders are spending the most money provide the best clue on which legislative races are worth watching.

That said, most years at least one little-noticed candidate pulls off a big upset in an Iowa House or Senate district neither party was targeting. Now-disgraced Kent Sorenson won his first race in 2008, taking a House seat that had been considered safe for Democrats. Two years later, Kim Pearson got no help from GOP leaders en route to winning a House seat where the Democratic incumbent had been unopposed the previous election. Republican Mark Chelgren won an Ottumwa-based Senate district for the first time by ten votes. That seat had been considered so safe that the Democratic incumbent was knocking doors for a colleague in another district during the final weekend. I learned later that internal GOP polling had Chelgren almost 20 points down a couple of seeks before the election.

I can’t shake the feeling that in this strange campaign with two unpopular presidential nominees, something weird will happen in a down-ballot race no one is watching. So before I get back to Bleeding Heartland’s last few battleground Senate and House race profiles, a few words on why I feel a race in Iowa’s southeast corner could produce a shocking result.

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Weekend open thread: Depressing news, inspiring news

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: Some exceptionally sad news caught my eye recently:

A new investigation by the Associated Press and the USA Today network found that in the first six months of 2016, children aged 17 or younger “died from accidental shootings — at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults — at a pace of one every other day, far more than limited federal statistics indicate.” Alaska and Louisiana had the highest rates of accidental child shooting. A separate feature in the series focused on three incidents that killed two teenage girls and seriously injured another in Tama County, Iowa.

Government research on accidental gun deaths is nearly non-existent, because more than two decades ago, the National Rifle Association persuaded Congress to defund gun research by the Centers for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, the AP’s Scott McFetridge reported last week on the growing hunger problem in Storm Lake. The problem isn’t lack of jobs–the local unemployment rate is quite low–but a lack of livable wages. Iowa-born economist Austin Frerick mentioned Storm Lake and other towns dominated by meatpacking plants in his guest post here a few months ago: Big Meat, Small Towns: The Free Market Rationale for Raising Iowa’s Minimum Wage.

I enclose below excerpts from all of those stories, along with some good news from the past week:

The African-American Hall of Fame announced four new inductees, who have done incredible work in higher education, criminal justice, community organizing, and the practice of law.

Planned Parenthood marked the 100th anniversary of the first birth control clinic opening in the country on October 16. Click here for a timeline of significant events in the organization’s history.

Drake University Biology Professor Thomas Rosburg will receive this year’s Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Rosburg is a legend among Iowans who care about native plants, wetlands, and prairie restoration.

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Failing Iowa’s Children: The Shortcomings of Welfare Reform and the Path Forward

Austin Frerick, an Iowa native and economist who has worked at the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Congressional Research Service, examines state assistance to poor children 20 years after federal welfare reform. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Nine-year-old Kaylie moved into a cheap motel after her mother got evicted. They have no refrigerator. Kaylie retrieves ice from the ice machine and fills the sink with it to keep the milk cold. When they have milk. Kaylie is just one of the approximately 110,000 Iowa children living in poverty, up 44 percent since 2000. Frontline profiled Kaylie and several other poor Iowa children in the acclaimed episode “Poor Kids.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s Welfare Reform. Prior to the reform, any poor mother and child in this country received a monthly subsistence check. This law changed that. It destroyed that safety net. It removed this promise and left states free to almost eliminate welfare. Politicians promised innovation by devolving power to states on the premise that they would come up with new ways address poverty but that never happened (Iowa’s last innovation meeting occurred in 1996). They promised it would get poor mothers back to work, but the programs proved ineffective (Iowa allocates less than 6% of funding to job assistance).

Most welfare dollars don’t even go directly to poor children anymore. Most states, including Iowa, use this money to supplement funding elsewhere. Twenty years later, there are now more poor kids receiving less support. We have let the bottom fall even further for our most vulnerable.

Iowa should abandon its current failed welfare system and instead enact a Social Security program for all of its children. This idea builds on the simple notion that parents know what is best for their children, and it would remove layers of ineffective bureaucracy.

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