With sub-90 degree weather here to stay, the fight to protect SNAP (and prevent Iowa families from going hungry) is heating up in D.C. Outcomes stemming from this effort will have a local, personal impact, says Sister Kathy Flynn—with stories illustrating her point. And the Annie E. Casey Foundation just released their annual child well-being report, ranking all 50 states using 16 indicators. How did Iowa fare? 

Here's the latest "scoop" on child policy in Iowa. 

A bipartisan Farm Bill within reach

The next 24 hours are extremely important. Here's why:

After the House passed its harmful version of the Farm Bill, which slashes funding designated to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and imposes unreasonable work requirements, the Senate is scheduled to vote any time on its version of the legislation. As a refresher, SNAP is the nation's most effective anti-hunger program, helping 1 in 9 Iowans—over 70 percent of whom are in families with children—put food on the table. SNAP is crucial for many families in Iowa.

Here's the good news: the Senate's bipartisan version of the bill protects and strengthens SNAP, ensuring that children and their parents, seniors, people with disabilities and working people with low pay will be able to make ends meet. The Senate's vision for the Farm Bill is the right—and only—way forward. 

But there's also bad news: the Farm Bill could face harmful amendments during discussions on the Senate floor. This means the robust, bipartisan bill could be weakened before passing out of the Senate.  

You can help protect SNAP! Tell Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to support the bipartisan Farm Bill as-is by voting 'YES', without adding harmful amendments. 

With the U.S. Senate poised to vote this week on the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Center's Stephen Dykstra talked with Sister Kathy Flynn about SNAP's irreplaceable role in helping at-risk women overcome poverty and achieve self-sufficiency. Sr. Flynn is the Doorways of Hope Employment and Education Case Manager at Opening Doors, a Dubuque-based nonprofit that provides emergency and short-term shelter to impoverished women and their children. Since joining the sisterhood in 2012, Sr. Flynn has worked tirelessly on behalf of incarcerated, indigenous, marginalized or abused women, spending time in cities throughout the Midwest and Washington state.

Drawing from your years of experience, how does SNAP fit into the broader picture of helping women escape poverty?

Every woman I work with uses SNAP—but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. Many of these women come from extremely difficult backgrounds and are dealing with multiple barriers to success: past abuse, addictions, poverty or mental health issues. Those with children face the struggle of finding affordable childcare, which impacts their ability to hold down a steady job. Quite honestly, many are trying to get by on a day-to-day basis. It’s exhausting to be poor. To have a benefit (albeit meager in retrospect) like SNAP to help put food on the table—it’s a lifesaver for these women. In contrast, cutting SNAP benefits would be devastating and only create more obstacles for these women to become self-sufficient.

Why is food security, specifically, essential for anti-poverty work?    

In order to be productive, thriving human beings in our own right, we need our basic human needs met—sleep, shelter, food and safety. SNAP is one of many components needed to lift these women out of poverty. How can anyone deal with the stressors in their life while being hungry? If an individual is struggling to meet basic needs, they’re not going to make improvements. It simply doesn’t work.

Please share an example of an individual that was directly served through SNAP.

There are many examples I could share, but one comes to mind. I worked with a woman who had a young infant. And even though she was working a minimum wage job, she would have been unable to make ends meet without SNAP benefits. In fact, over 93 percent of the women in our program are working (often multiple jobs) and still struggle to earn a living wage. These women don’t want to rely on handouts, but they use these benefits because they need them to survive.

Anything else you’d like to share?

The other night I was watching TV coverage of the horrible things happening along the U.S.-Mexico border when I became acutely aware of how quickly people were labeled as part of the greater national conversation. During a segment on families fleeing Guatemala, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine what these people are experiencing!’ I wonder if the same could be true for many of us regarding people in poverty. Many Americans have no idea what it is like to live in poverty; we don’t internalize the drastic trade-offs associated with cutting funding and benefits. But if we could do a better job of understanding their stories, perhaps we’d approach this issue from a different angle. Maybe we’d all have more compassion and empathy.

Iowa ranks fifth nationally in the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It is the 29th edition of their annual child well-being report, which compares and ranks the 50 states on 16 child and family well-being indicators in four separate domains. 

Iowa ranks fourth in the economic well-being domain and in top 10 in the three other domains: seventh in education, eighth in health and eighth in family and community.

Beyond the state rankings, this year’s report highlights the risk of a significant undercount of children, especially young children, in the 2020 census. Such an undercount “would short-change child well-being over the next decade by putting at risk hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for programs that are critical to family stability and opportunity,” Casey officials wrote. Those include Medicaid and CHIP, SNAP, Title I, the school lunch program, special education grants and Head Start. 

Undercounts are not a new issue and there's reason to expect the problem could be even worse in 2020. The households most likely to be missed have a disproportionate share of young children; they are more likely to be kids of color and live in low-income or immigrant families. In Iowa, about 7,000 Iowa children under age 5 live in hard-to-count census tracts. 

The report recommends a series of strategies to better count children in 2020, including maximizing the capacity of the Census Bureau and fully funding state and local outreach campaigns to reach parents. 

Indeed, the stakes are high. “If we don’t count the kids facing the greatest obstacles, we essentially make them and their needs invisible — and their future uncertain.”

Find the 2018 Data Book on the Casey Foundation website


505 5th Avenue Suite 404
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
(515) 280-9027

Let's connect!

Our work is supported by individual Iowans who care about children and families—join us!

Manage Subscription