Happy May, all. The Iowa legislature finished its business last Saturday — unusually a week ahead of schedule. We'll close the door on session with a recap of the Center's policy priorities and what actually came out of the state Capitol. And an emoji to sum up our feelings about it. Of course, we have to wait and see which of the remaining bills the Governor may veto, so it's possible we might have a surprise or two before it's all the way over.
Restore funding for Early Childhood Iowa to 2008 level with an $18 million funding increase
Legislators approved an increase of $500,000 for ECI following House-Senate negotiations (after the House included $1 million and the Senate zero in their respective Education budgets). This speck of new funding will be available to the 38 local ECI areas that cover the state for early childhood services, including preschool, child care and family-support programs.
Expand the 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative to remaining 11 unserved counties
Lawmakers approved an increase of one full-time position in the Department of Public Health to support program administration, but otherwise status quo funding. We are deeply disappointed the program did not receive the funds to expand statewide, but do see the additional staffing as a reflection of legislators’ continued desire to invest in the program.
Reject work reporting requirements that would take away health coverage from Medicaid members
That's the "relieved" emoji, above. Lawmakers ultimately passed on imposing new work reporting requirements on those who depend on Medicaid (as well as other programs, like SNAP.) There’s ample evidence from other states that such requirements only make it more difficult for people to work and take care of their families. This issue is sure to resurface next session, so we will be working hard of the interim to educate policymakers on why these proposals don’t make sense for Iowa.
Make our managed care system work for Iowans
The legislature declined to take action in the face of the decision of UnitedHealthcare — which managed the health care services of nearly 2/3 of Iowa’s Medicaid members — to exit the state. UHC’s departure brings more confusion and turmoil to our already fraught managed care delivery system and is likely to set back hopes of implementing proactive measures to improve outcomes for kids in Medicaid (like creating a Pediatric Advisory Board or extending Medicaid’s robust child health benefit, EPSDT, to our separate CHIP program).
Waive the five-year waiting period for legal permanent residents to access Medicaid prenatal and maternity services
A small but really important win, here. We are excited that the legislature will be making it easier for this group of green card-holding pregnant women to get the care they need to increase the odds of healthy birth outcomes. Currently these women must wait five years before applying for Medicaid benefits, which often means these women don’t receive recommended prenatal care.
Establish and fund a children’s mental health system
The Governor’s children’s mental health bill received strong bipartisan support in both chambers, a reflection of her leadership and the legislature’s commitment to finally make children’s mental health a priority. This legislation is an important first step, but without adequate funding progress will only go so far. Advocates will keep working with legislators and the Governor to ensure the system receives necessary funding and incorporates greater focus on prevention services.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the children's mental health bill into law May 1.
Increase the school supplemental state aid (SSA) formula by at least 3 percent
A 2.06 percent increase in school funding passed very early in the session and was signed by the Governor in February. That's better, of course, than last year’s 1 percent increase (the lowest in 15 years), but it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that we continue to fund education at levels that make it impossible for districts to keep up with costs. SSA has averaged only 1.8 percent growth over the last nine years, and that's including this year’s increase.
Renew the SAVE sales tax penny for school infrastructure
Lawmakers extended to 2051 the one-cent sales tax for school capital improvements. That long time horizon is important because districts bond against those sales tax dollars to finance new construction, renovation and other physical plant improvements. The bill also made changes to the associated Property Tax Equity Relief Fund. After the SAVE distribution, the remaining tax is deposited in the PTER Fund, which is used for property tax relief via the school funding formula.
Reject school vouchers
Several bills were introduced by the majority party that would have established so-called “education savings grants,” but even scaled down versions didn’t make it through funnel. Ultimately they were hindered by huge fiscal notes. Taxpayers would end up footing the bill, which could cost over $100 million per year. We opposed these bills for multiple reasons, including the fact that vouchers often leave public school districts with the same overall operating costs but fewer dollars to pay for them.
Implement provisions of the Family First Prevention Services Act
The federal Family First Act aims to reduce the number of children in foster care by expanding prevention efforts and ensuring children in care are placed in the most family-like situation possible and returned home as soon as they can. Iowa's legislature passed a bill that lays the foundation for this major shift. It includes a series of provisions, for example assuring that unless there’s imminent risk to the child’s life or health, the courts will allow visitation between parents and child while the child is in care. It's a good start toward improving outcomes for foster youth.
Support design and implementation of a new DHS computer system with $15 million state investment
DHS workers currently use an antiquated computer system. They need one that will help them better collect and share data in real time on the children and families they serve. The Governor and House both proposed some dollars in their budgets, but the money was taken out in final negotiations. There is language in the HHS budget bill, however, that DHS has the option to use unspent funds on technology needs.
Increase collection and reporting of enrollment and outcome data by race and ethnicity within state agencies and contracting agencies
Literally no action taken. This is an important piece of unfinished business. A large body of data and research has demonstrated the wide gulf in prosperity limiting the prospects of children of color in Iowa. By tracking data by race and ethnicity, we make sure we are offering every kid a path to opportunity — essential for our state’s shared prosperity.
Family Economic Success
Increase the child care assistance family eligibility level to 185 percent of the federal poverty level
Several bills that would have given more low-income working families access to child care subsidies were introduced (by members of both parties), but none advanced this session. A couple of child care tax credit bills stalled, too. Such failures are deeply distressing in a state where 3 in 4 young children live in families where all parents work and where many communities face a serious undersupply of child care slots.
Increase child care assistance provider reimbursement to current market rate
No new increases here, either. The HHS bill does include language to ensure the child care provider rate increases legislated last year — for the last half of fiscal year 2019 — are annualized so they cover the entire FY 2020. So no steps backward, at least.
Establish a public/private partnership to address local child care needs with $1 million in matching funds
The House included $1 million through the Future Ready Iowa initiative to potentially include and address child care/business partnerships. The Senate did not include the money and it never made it to the final compromise bill.
Taxes and Budget
Enact tax policies that decrease income inequality and fund an adequate budget meeting theneeds of all Iowans
“Upside-down” tax systems like Iowa’s — systems in which middle- and low-income Iowa families pay a higher share of their income in state and local taxes (income, property, sales and excise) than wealthy families — promote inequality and limit investment in priorities that support the prospects of low and middle-income Iowans. We avoided another round of damaging state-level tax cuts this year that would have further constricted our budget down the road, but lawmakers took no action to invert our already upside-down system. This approach to taxes and budgeting is a large part of the reason we are sending out an end-of-session recap so lacking in wins for Iowa children, and a major challenge for child advocates moving forward.
Want to go deeper? The Center maintains a bill tracker to outline the specific legislation we are following, and we've updated it to reflect where things stand at the end of session.
Find your legislator
Not sure who represents you? With 50 senators and 100 representatives, it can be hard to keep tabs. Visit our Legislator Lookup tool to find out who represents you in the state house and senate, biographical information about each one and a link to their legislative websites, which list contact information and committee membership. All you need to do is enter your home address and zip code.