Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

November 4, 2019 GMT

Sioux City Journal. Nov. 3, 2019

Fire under bridge should spur renewed focus on homelessness

Damage done to an Interstate 29 bridge in Sioux City by a fire on Wednesday provides a dramatic wake-up call for the need to breathe new life into discussion of our community’s homeless problem. The fire, caused by transients camped below the bridge, was bad, but it could have been worse if, say, the structure had collapsed with traffic on it.

Our sense is momentum we felt building to identify and create solutions to the local challenge of homelessness last year slowed this year. As a community, we must recommit in urgent fashion to the goal of a multi-faceted strategy for this issue. Without one, homelessness will persist and, in fact, grow.

To begin, the state and city shouldn’t accept the problem and look the other way. For protection of citizens and property, for example, the Iowa Department of Transportation and the city of Sioux City shouldn’t allow anyone to camp under a bridge. If policies exist to prevent living under bridges, enforce them. If policies don’t exist, create them. For another related example, the city of Sioux City should do whatever it can to discourage panhandling, perhaps through an ordinance prohibiting this activity either across the city or in specific high-profile, high-traffic parts.

We don’t suggest local police officers spend an inordinate amount of their time looking under bridges for transients or searching for panhandlers, but the city shouldn’t ignore these issues, either.

Of course, steps like these do not address the root causes of homelessness, so they must be only part of a comprehensive local plan to reduce, if not eliminate the problem.

Again today, we commend those who do what they can and who advocate for more, from big-hearted volunteers to social service providers to medical providers to government offices to law enforcement agencies. Our community is filled with individuals willing to extend a helping hand to those who have nowhere to go.

What’s needed, however, is more than well-intentioned, but short-term approaches, and we shouldn’t just look to Washington, D.C., for deeper solutions to a challenge for which we as a community are responsible.

We do not suggest this task is easy, but we believe the local reservoir of compassion, energy, creativity and expertise necessary to affect significant change in homelessness exists if the problem is made the priority it deserves to be.

In other words, there is a way if there is a will.


Quad City Times. Nov. 3, 2019

A challenging election year

In a couple of days, voters will go the polls to elect city council and school board members in Iowa.

In a way, it’s a historic election. For the first time that we can remember, people vying for City Hall offices will be on the same ballot as those wanting to sit on area school boards. Previously, school board elections were held in September. The elections were consolidated because of a state law passed in 2017.

What has resulted is that voters have had a lot thrown their way this year. There are 14 people running for school board seats in Davenport and six in Bettendorf. That’s in addition to the city council races. (In Bettendorf none of the council contests are competitive, so the burden is lighter. But in Davenport, it was less than a month ago that we saw six people running for mayor. And because there was a recount in the mayor’s race after the Oct. 8 primary, that resulted in an even more compressed general election campaign season.

We don’t begrudge mayoral candidate Dan Portes his recount request. After all, he finished third by a small margin, just eight votes short of qualifying for the general election. But it took a week to settle that question. So Davenport absentee voters didn’t get their ballots until last week. The county auditor’s office tells us the recount pushed back the distribution date until Oct. 23.

So, yes, it seems like a lot of things have conspired this year to make it harder for voters to educate themselves on who to choose to run their city and their school districts. (We would note that, in addition to city and school board races, community college directors also are on some of the ballots.)

Some of this is the way it is because of state. There are a limited number of local election systems, and the law allows four weeks between a primary and a general election. Even the runoff system has a four-week gap between a general election and the runoff, which becomes necessary if any candidate for office fails to get a majority of the vote.

Still, some states hold primary and general elections further apart, and it works pretty well. This would offer a longer campaign season and give people the time to get to know the candidates better. There is some downside to this: Some folks would not welcome the extended political season and it could complicate governing. Still, these are important offices, and if voters are to make informed decisions they must have the time to fully consider their choices.

The state’s decision in 2017 to consolidate the ballot, we’re told, was driven by the desire to boost participation in school board elections, which statewide have averaged about 6.5 percent in recent years, compared with 21 percent for city elections.

We expect some lawmakers also wanted to lessen the influence of the teacher’s union in these low-turnout elections, as well as save some money. (We have our doubts about the cost savings. With cities and school districts having different boundaries, not to mention the community college, that means a lot more specific ballots.)

We understand dissatisfaction with poor turnout. We share it. But given our experience this year, we don’t think this is any better.

Perhaps we should be grateful that Iowa, unlike some states, isn’t looking to bucket local elections with federal ones, a move that’s taken hold in some parts of the country. (Imagine the size of the ballot then!)

Still, we think that once the dust has settled on this election, local and state officials ought to take to heart the lessons and look at ways to give people more time to adequately consider their choices. If the combined ballot is here to stay, then we think there needs to be more time between the primary and general elections.


Des Moines Register. October 30, 2019

Iowa GOP should learn a lesson from Arkansas, reject Medicaid work requirements

Editorial: Work requirements led to loss of health insurance for 18,000 Arkansas residents. Many didn’t realize they had no insurance until they sought care or were sent bills after receiving care.

Every once in a while you get to see what happens when a bad policy idea becomes reality. Look no further than Arkansas, which enacted work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Iowa’s Republican lawmakers and governor should take an especially close look.

In 2018, Arkansas embarked on an experiment to become the only state to fully implement Medicaid work requirements. Medicaid, funded by federal and state governments, provides health insurance for low-income Americans and ensures health providers who treat poor patients are compensated.

Arkansas required many residents covered by an Affordable Care Act expansion to perform at least 80 hours per month of work, volunteering, job training or other activities.

What ensued was exactly what should have been expected: confusion, more paperwork, increased bureaucracy, court fights and people losing health insurance.

A federal judge eventually blocked Arkansas’ requirements, noting the state did not adequately consider the potential to cause people to lose coverage. The Trump administration, which has repeatedly demonstrated it is no friend of Medicaid or vulnerable people, is appealing that decision.

Amid all this, an estimated 18,000 people lost health insurance — largely because they were confused about or unaware of new requirements. Many didn’t realize they had no health insurance until they sought medical care or were sent bills after receiving care.

Iowa needs to learn from the disastrous consequences in Arkansas.

Earlier this year the GOP-led Iowa Legislature jumped on the misguided work requirement bandwagon and supported legislation with language that looks a lot like what Arkansas implemented. It directed the Iowa Department of Human Services to seek federal permission to require “able bodied” Iowans to engage in work, community activities or be enrolled in school about 80 hours a month.

(Remember, most of these same part-time lawmakers receive taxpayer-paid insurance to cover health care costs for them and their families).

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency cautioned Iowa lawmakers that more than 70,000 Iowans would be affected. The additional work for state employees, hiring more staff, gathering information on beneficiaries and other newly created bureaucratic issues were estimated to cost $5 million the first year and nearly $12 million the second.

Plus, of course, there would be the expense of defending the state against inevitable lawsuits.

Arkansas has no evidence to show the work requirements increased employment. It does, however, have thousands more people without insurance and many health providers, including hospitals, not being compensated.

Will Iowa’s GOP lawmakers learn from this? Will they finally understand that Medicaid gets people connected with the health care they need to be well enough to hold jobs?

If you are mentally ill, prescription drugs may be the key to securing and maintaining employment. People suffering from chronic pain, shortness of breath, depression, diabetes, drug addiction or numerous other problems need care in order to pursue opportunities, including education and work.

Besides, work requirements would not apply to a majority of Medicaid recipients. About half of enrollees in Iowa are children. Other big slices: the elderly in nursing homes, and people with disabilities whose work options may be limited.

The majority of able-bodied adults on Medicaid already have jobs, and many of them work full-time. But they’re still poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

Iowans have already been put through the wringer with the disastrous privatization of Medicaid under GOP leadership. They’ve had to navigate changes in coverage, some have lost in-home care and others continue to be thoroughly confused. Health providers have reported not being reimbursed for services.

The last thing this state needs is the confounding mess and the loss of health insurance that work requirements would bring.