Before you get started... We know this is an especially long policy update, even for us! As always, our goal is to provide helpful information and analysis about issues affecting Iowa kids and families, in a way that's convenient and accessible for folks on the go. This time around, however, we feel like the main topic of discussion — Iowa Department of Human Services setting its budget for next fiscal year — warrants a detailed explanation. It's important for folks to understand what budget decisions made by the state's largest department will mean for kids and families. Let's get started!
Status quo budget for kids and families (again)
The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) is proposing a status quo budget for FY 2021, the budget year that starts next July and that will be considered by the legislature starting in January. That’s no new state dollars to do its work supporting the well-being of Iowa children, families and individuals. Department officials made budget presentations last month to the Council on Human Services, which acts in a policy-making and advisory capacity to the department.
This doesn’t sit particularly well with folks here at the Center, knowing the degree of unmet needs in Iowa — and especially with an announcement from the Governor’s office this week touting a $289 million budget surplus in FY 2019.
Here’s one big highlight and some notes from the Council on Human Services presentations. (You can find the full list of DHS presentations here).
There’s good news and less good news here for Iowa’s Child Care Assistance program, which helps low-income families afford child care while they work or attend school. The good: Iowa plans to tweak its exit eligibility program, known as “CCA Plus,” to shrink the “cliff effect” that happens when even a small raise makes a family ineligible for assistance, and responsible for the entire cost of child care — an impossible bill for most families in that situation.
For years, Iowa’s child care assistance has maxed out for families at 145 percent of the federal poverty, or $30,936 in annual gross wages for a family of three, among the lowest levels in the nation. Pushed by new federal rules, the state established the CCA Plus program last year, which allowed families receiving child care assistance whose incomes surpass 145 percent FPL but remain below 85 percent of the state median income to remain on the program — but only for 12 months. At the time officials said they intended to apply for a federal waiver in order to keep that time limit in place, which would not normally be allowed.
At the Council on Human Services session last month, they unveiled plans for a CCA Plus program with no time limit, and resulting costs paid for with federal funds. This means more Iowa families will be able to access child care assistance without fear of losing it after a year as they are just starting to get ahead.
But here’s the bad news: families with incomes above the 145 percent of poverty threshold when they first apply for child care assistance are not eligible
We can’t fully embrace a policy that treats two families with similar incomes differently, based solely on the timing of their earnings increase. A better solution: raise the family eligibility level to 185 percent of poverty for every family.
Working families with young children are especially stretched and need support so they can go to work or school. Their children benefit greatly from high-quality programs that build the foundation for future learning, behavior and health — giving them a strong start to life.
Medicaid and food assistance
DHS is requesting a supplemental Medicaid appropriation of $106.6 million for FY 2020, the current fiscal year. The majority of these additional funds will go to the managed care organizations operating Iowa’s Medicaid program. These dollars are separate from the FY 2021 budget.
We also have an idea of the potential harm that would be caused by a Trump administration proposal to cut people from food assistance. In FY 2019, a monthly average of 9,230 Iowa households and 19,279 individuals were eligible for food assistance under an effective SNAP policy called broad-based categorical eligibility.
Iowa is one of 40 states that use this option to raise SNAP income eligibility so that low-income working families — many of whom face costly housing and child care expenses — can afford adequate food. These Iowans received a monthly average benefit of just over $47. The administration’s rule change would take SNAP away from this group, as well as free school lunches away from the children among them. The federal public comment period on this proposal just closed. Now we wait to see what’s in the final rule, and if it draws lawsuits to keep it from going into effect.
Third graders, volunteers read at local elementary school
Helping Iowa kids learn, one page at a time. Third graders at Lovejoy Elementary in Des Moines enjoyed reading with volunteers from United Way of Central Iowa — along with fun literacy activities around cultural awareness, diversity and community support. Policy director Sheila Hansen, who participated in the event, says "It was fun to see all the third graders reading. Valuable opportunities like this pay off for student learning in the short and long term!"
Catch up on A Deeper Dive episodes
We've dropped several new podcast episodes in recent weeks — with a handful more scheduled this fall before we wrap up our first season. Take a look!
Episode 21 Redlining: Eric Burmeister with Polk County Housing Trust Fund breaks down redlining, an unjust city planning practice used for decades in the U.S. — Des Moines included — that systemically segregated communities by color and economic status.
Episode 22 Managed Care: Cyndy Miller, legal director at Disability Rights Iowa, unpacks efforts to get disabled Iowans get the health care they need and are entitled to under managed care.
Episode 23 Back-to-school: A conversation with second-grade teacher Anna Dykstra to kick off the school year. Topics include student mental health, classroom preparation and evolving teaching methods.
Episode 24 Head Start: Tom Rendon and Carrie Sodders about the ins and outs of Head Start, an effective federal early childhood program dating back to the 1960s.
Episode 25 Cost of living in Iowa: What does it take for Iowa families to make ends meet? Iowa Policy Project's Natalie Veldhouse unpacks a new cost of living report that shows just what Iowans are up against to survive financially.