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Unprecedented year leaves Iowa with challenges

Governor Reynolds’ Condition of the State address addressed triumphs, tragedies and trauma of Iowa in 2020

By Amy H. Peterson - | Jan 13, 2021

Editor’s Note: The Estherville News spoke with Anne Discher, Executive Director of Common Good Iowa, an organization formed by the merger of Iowa Policy Project and Child and Family Policy Center on the day of the Condition of the State address. Discher provided perspective on how policy could affect children and families in Emmet County, The Estherville News will continue coverage of how state policies are affecting individuals and families in Emmet County as additional programs and initiatives go forward in this legislative session.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds started her Condition of the State Address with a statement on the past year. “We’ve been beaten and battered in about every way imaginable and some unimaginable. But together, we’ve met every challenge with bravery and outright grit,” Reynolds said.

Anne Discher, Executive Director of Common Good Iowa, said the difficulties of 2020 have affected children and families disproportionately.

Discher said according to a report out last month from the Annie E. Casey Foundation: “Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond.” AECF researchers analyzed families in all 50 states who answered weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that show the struggles families face in meeting basic needs while managing remote learning, work, and mental and physical health.

Discher said in Iowa, over one in five families, 21% had slight or no confidence they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time, higher than the national average. About one in seven families, 14% said they did not have enough to eat. And one in five have felt down, depressed or hopeless.

Discher said Common Good Iowa is calling on the governor to broadly support families and in so doing to care about kids with a wide variety of needs.

One of the needs Discher said must be met is child care.

Governor Reynolds cited a project in Stuart, Iowa, where 17 local businesses joined together to purchase an empty building with plans to renovate and lease it to a childcare provider.

A public-private partnership like this is what has led to the Child Care Challenge Fund. Wednesday, the governor announced the Employer Innovation Fund and opportunities for communities to harness Child Care Challenge Funding through the Future Ready Iowa Program. Employers, nonprofits and employer consortiums can apply for the Child Care Challenge Fund and request up to $100,000 in matching funds. Applicants may match the funds with private dollars and in-kind donations of labor and materials, and use funds for new construction, rehabilitation of an existing structure as a child care facility, or retrofitting an existing structure.

Reynolds said if the Child Care Challenge Fund, “It’s an innovative program that encourages employers, community leaders, and others to collaborate in developing child care facilities.”

The governor said she is allocating $3 million to jump-start these public-private partnerships, and $25 million of child care development block grants to further promote child care startups.

“Every community has different needs and different resources,” Governor Reynolds said.

The governor said real child care solutions are vital to getting parents back into the workforce. “Let’s remove the obstacles to high-quality, affordable child care so that Iowa families can nurture their kids while parents maintain the maximum freedom to enter and remain in the workforce.”

Another family issue the governor addressed was children’s mental health. The Iowa legislature voted to enact a comprehensive children’s mental health system, but they have yet to fully fund it.

Discher said Common Good Iowa is calling on the legislature to Prioritize the physical and mental health of all children by guaranteeing that any vaccine will be available without cost as a factor, retaining and strengthening the Affordable Care Act and protecting Medicaid.

Dischers aid, “To promote mental health, particularly in times of crisis, Iowa policymakers should work to ensure adequate, predictable and sustainable funding for the state’s mental health system for children and adults.”

Governor Reynolds said she felt the pain of Iowans who have had their lives turned upside down because of the pandemic.

“In the last three years, we have reformed our mental health system, and we’re continuing to make it better. I’m proposing to increase mental health funding by $15 million this year, and another $15 million next year, to fully fund these reform efforts. And I know that our mental health regions are working on innovative solutions to address the unique needs of children who have been affected by the pandemic.”

Discher said Common Good Iowa’s data shows that healthy children come from healthy families. As a result CGI proposes funding solutions that help the whole family.

“Iowans think Iowa is a good place to raise kids. And if we look at child well-being data throughout the nation in studies like (the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s) Kids Count, they’re right. We do look better if we look at the national average,” Discher said.

However, on a closer look at day to day life, Discher said the pandemic has pushed lots of families closer to the edge, and the effects are likely to cause long-term challenges for families with physical and mental issues from long-term stress.

“Rolling out the vaccines will take a while. We need to help working families still going through a really tough time,” Discher said.

This may require large scale funding until the crisis is passed.

“It is an unprecedented moment and requires an unprecedented response,” Discher said.

The responses could include removing barriers to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, and expanding housing assistance beyond eviction prevention and temporary assistance to expand the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program and increasing the stock of public housing, Discher said.

Governor Reynolds said, We’re told that “tribulation produces perseverance and perseverance, character.” From what I’ve seen, there’s no shortage of character in the people of Iowa. And despite what we’ve been through–or maybe because of it–the condition of our state has never been stronger.”