Matt Chapman closely follows Iowa legislative happenings. -promoted by Laura Belin
The Iowa Senate Local Government Committee has approved a bill that would prevent municipalities from banning discrimination against tenants based on their source of income.
Senate Study Bill 3178 is yet another attack by the majority party on some of the most vulnerable Iowans. Section 8 housing vouchers are for those with nowhere to go, and they only cover half of the rent on apartments or houses.
At the February 20 committee meeting, Democratic State Senator Herman Quirmbach talked about municipalities that allow landlords to reject tenants using vouchers. It is in effect a modern version of redlining, a longstanding method–now outlawed–to deny African Americans or other disadvantaged groups access to housing. Quirmbach said,
“Allowing landlords to discriminate against people who use the federal housing vouchers is a way of discriminating against poor people, and I’m sorry, but I’m going to be blunt about this – it’s a way of allowing landlords to discriminate against black and brown people.”
It just so happens that TIME magazine published an article on this topic shortly before Republicans voted this bill out of committee, making it eligible for floor debate. The piece by Abby Vesoulis is titled, “‘A Mask for Racial Discrimination’: How Housing Voucher Programs Can Hurt the Low-Income Families They’re Designed to Help.”
Iowans who receive Section 8 vouchers wouldn’t be the only ones affected by the original Republican proposal. Des Moines City Council member Josh Mandelbaum noted in his February 17 newsletter to constituents,
In June , we passed an ordinance intended to make our housing voucher program work better by prohibiting landlords from discriminating against individuals who use a voucher to pay for a portion of their rent. Our ordinance allows someone with alimony, child support, disability benefits, veterans’ benefits or any other lawful source of income use that income to meet a landlord’s income requirements. When these ordinances are implemented, voucher holders and others in need are more likely to find housing. Our ordinance was an important step in addressing affordable housing in our community. Unfortunately, the legislature may be looking to undue our good work.
UPDATE/Editor’s note: Before the Senate Local Government Committee approved the bill, now renumbered Senate File 2368, Republicans amended it so it would apply only to regulations related to Section 8 vouchers and not to ordinances barring discrimination on the basis of other sources of income.
THE REPUBLICAN AGENDA TOWARD IOWANS ON PUBLIC ASSISTANCE
Since Republicans gained full control of the legislature in 2017, State Senator Jason Schultz has regularly sponsored bills affecting the one out of three Iowans who live paycheck to paycheck, depicting them as taking advantage of the system. During floor debate last year on one of Schultz’s five bills targeting Iowans on public assistance, fellow Republican Senator Julian Garrett said he didn’t understand why people were surprised by these bills, adding that Republicans would offer a whole suite of reforms on public aid.
One of those bills, Senate File 538, would have imposed work requirements at an estimated cost of $17 million during the first two years alone. The goal was to deny benefits. New restrictions and reporting tends to cause “churn” in the Medicaid rolls. Eligible Iowans can get confused by the new rules and be removed from the program.
Around the same time Iowa Senate Republicans approved that bill last year, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC struck down a similar law in Kentucky.
A bill Schultz offered this year would take another bite at the “workfare” apple. Senate Study Bill 3158 passed out of committee amended and will head to the Senate floor. Since this bill would not impose quarterly review requirements, it seems more like a political statement than anything else.
Schultz says his constituents have brought to his attention rampant abuse of the system. His home county (Crawford) has a poverty rate of 18 percent. Since almost one out of five are struggling, it’s not surprising they would look for help from the state. Maybe if Schultz pushed for raising the minimum wage, he could represent that group of his constituents, rather than stereotyping them.
OTHER LAWS AFFECTING VULNERABLE IOWANS
One of the most significant Republican bills passed in 2017 was written to stop Polk, Johnson, Wapello, and Linn counties from raising the minimum wage, so that workers could have the dignity of earning an income closer to meeting their basic needs.
According to the United Way ALICE report, nearly 40 percent of Wapello County residents are unable to cover the cost of living:
In Wapello County, 19% of the population live below the Federal Poverty Level. The United Way ALICE Report for Iowa shows that an ADDITIONAL 20% of Wapello County residents are unable to afford life’s basic necessities of housing, transportation, food, health care and childcare despite having income above the Federal Poverty Level designation. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less that the very basic cost of living in our community.
Refusing to allow counties to raise wages has only exacerbated problems associated with poverty in those areas. It was yet another Republican attack on local control, a principle their party used to stand for.
The list of harmful legislation goes on…
A DIFFERENT STORY FOR THE TOP THIRD OF IOWANS OR OUT-OF-STATE ENTITIES
For those on the top, life has never been better. Republicans approved a tax cut in 2018 that lowered corporate taxes from 12 percent to 7 percent (a 41.6 percent reduction). At the subcommittee meeting on that bill, lobbyists lined up to thank Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Randy Feenstra all the way around room 22 and out the door. It’s not a small room.
I know a lot of lobbyists. Most of the ones there that day, I hadn’t seen before or since. Watching their appreciation as they thanked the chair put in perspective for whom the majority party was working.
For Iowans the tax cut delivered:
Many corporations have been big winners due to the tax cut. Monopoly utility companies also profited from an energy bill that slashed efficiency programs, which had helped keep our power bills low for decades. Going forward, Iowans will be paying for more electricity production.
Meatpacking plants not only got a tax cut, they benefited from the workers’ compensation law that cut assistance especially deeply to workers with repetitive shoulder injuries.
WHEN WILL THE TOP THIRD GET THE SAME SCRUTINY AS THOSE ON THE BOTTOM?
This post has covered only a small portion of the laws Iowa Republicans have passed over the last three years. I am hard pressed to think of any bill that was designed to address corruption at the top. Does it not exist?
Seven million dollars could buy a lot of meals for children, help the housing and homeless crisis in our state, go to treatment for the mentally ill or the meth or opioid epidemic. Maybe give State Auditor Rob Sand or Attorney General Tom Miller some extra funds to investigate corruption, such as at the managed care organizations now running our Medicaid program.
We need a big change of values at our statehouse. I plan on working to elect some legislators in 2020 who will reverse this trend, and stand up to the donor class that seems to own so many now. They have all the money, but we have people power. We’ll have to use it to right this ship and get it working for the Iowans who desperately need it.