The following is a news update from Iowa Democrats:
Low Funding Plan Leaves Schools Short
Iowans have always had great pride in our public schools. However, the state’s new investment in public schools has been the lowest in Iowa history over the last decade leading to the closure of 126 schools in Iowa. The low funding means public schools have been forced to increase class sizes and raise property taxes to make up for the shortfall in state funding.
This year, the majority party has offered another low school funding plan that will lead to more school closings, higher class sizes, and fewer opportunities for students. School leaders across the state have said the continued low funding isn’t keeping up with rising costs and hampers their ability to train the next generation of Iowa workers.
House Democrats are working on an alternative plan to invest $133 million more in public schools next year, which is a 3% increase. With that funding increase, Iowa can become the national leader in education again and continue to build Iowa’s skilled workforce.
Resources Available to Help Iowans File Their Taxes
State officials have created a “Filing Made Easy” website to help Iowans through the process of filing their state income taxes. Iowa Dept. of Revenue Director Kraig Paulson assured that continuing to improve the customer experience is a top priority for the Department of Revenue (DOR). The website explaining the process of filing your taxes can be found at https://refunds.tax.iowa.gov/.
There are also a variety of services available to help many Iowans file their state income taxes for free through the “eFile for Free” program. Many Iowans that earn less than $69,000 a year may qualify for free services to help file their taxes. Additional information on eFile can be found at https://tax.iowa.gov/
The DOR has also improved the experience of customer interactions. Taxpayer specialists will be available for extended hours to assist customers during filing season. The front desk at the Department will also be open longer to accommodate walk-in customers. The phone system has been upgraded to include an automated service check on the status of your refund. Refunds can also still be tracked online at https://tax.iowa.gov/wheres-
This year the DOR is going to process returns in the same time frame as the federal taxes are processed. Because of this, the state started processing returns on January 27th. The state has established a procedure to process returns in 30-45 days. Taxpayers are required to provide their federal return when filing their Iowa taxes. Iowa income taxes are due on April 30th.
Additional Mental Health Funding
A bill designed to draw down more federal matching Medicaid dollars for mental health has passed the House Human Resources Committee unanimously. This bill will direct the Department of Human Services (DHS) to get permission from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to get federal matching dollars for reimbursement to facilities considered institutions for mental diseases (IMDs). Currently, this Medicaid reimbursement is not available for individuals between the ages of 21-64 at these facilities. This changed in 2018 when CMS said that states could apply to cover short-term stays in IMDs with over 16 beds for individuals with a severe mental illness (SMI) and a severe emotional disturbance (SED).
Mental health services have been underfunded across the state, and this waiver may be able to fill some of the gaps in care. However, this is just a band aid because the state’s mental health regions are being asked to fund most of the services without receiving much financial assistance from the state. In order to truly make meaningful and lasting changes to the system, it needs to be fully-funded.
House Democrats will continue working to ensure every Iowan has access to quality mental health services. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.
Farm Bankruptcies Double in Iowa
Farm bankruptcies in the US are rising at the quickest rate since the Great Recession, up nearly 20% in the last year. In Iowa alone, farm bankruptcies nearly doubled in Iowa over the last year. Wisconsin was the hardest hit by bankruptcies over the last year as the Trump Administration’s trade war took a particularly hard toll on the dairy industry.
These losses come during the Trump Administration’s protracted trade wars and tariff fights, which has led to record farm debt and instability in markets. They come despite the fact the Trump Administration directly paid farmers $28 billion over the last two years to offset the damage of those policies. That is more than double the amount of the auto bailout during the Great Recession. Without this bailout to offset the administration’s own damaging proposals, the rate of bankruptcies would have likely been much higher.
Dyslexia Taskforce Bill Introduced
For two years, Iowa’s Dyslexia Task Force has met to develop strategies to improve the education of students with dyslexia in Iowa. Last week, House File 2148 was introduced to address the recommendations made by that task force, which includes forming a professional learning framework for all teacher preparation institutions.
The legislation will also require the Department of Education to hire an employee to help create the framework, address dyslexia learning in the classroom, and require online training for teachers that is already developed by the Iowa Reading Research Center. The bill also creates an advanced teacher endorsement in dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a common neurologically-based language processing disorder in which people develop issues with reading, building vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Children without appropriate interventions struggle to reach their full academic potential, while also suffering from stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The detailed dyslexia taskforce report can be found at: https://educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/DyslexiaTaskForceReportFinal_11_15_19.pdf.
House Committee Advances Flood Recovery Help
As Iowans across the state continue to deal with the damages from last season’s flooding, a House Committee has approved $20 million in flood relief for the current year. The money will be appropriated to the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The help will go to continue the 35 projects that are happening throughout the state at a cost of approximately $160 million. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government will be providing an additional $90 million. It is undetermined at this time if the $20 million appropriation will be enough to cover the remaining projects. Projects include flood mitigation, housing recovery, levee improvements, and property acquisition.
This additional investment will be distributed by the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board that was created in 2012 from the Flood Recovery Fund.