Avoid snap judgments on SNAP use

Posted April 10, 2015 by iowapolicypoints
Categories: Budget and Tax, Economic Opportunity, Organization

Tags: , , , , , ,

Legislators have enough to do finding answers to real problems. However, some seem ready to invent problems so they can come to the rescue.

Case in point: the Missouri representative who wants to stop food assistance recipients from buying steak.

Photos, please, of this actually happening. Because common sense tells us that other than some unusual case or two, it’s just not the way people allocate their meager food assistance benefit.

Why? Let’s look at the average benefit in Iowa from SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps.

People who qualify for SNAP are making less than $2,200 a month in a three-person family, about $2,600 in a four-person family. On average, their SNAP benefit as of March was about $1.18 per person per meal. That’s why they call it “supplemental” assistance: On its own, SNAP is not enough to keep bellies full, let alone fully support good family nutrition.

SNAP is there to help people piece together what they need to get by. SNAP is part of a mix of resources that includes a share of a low-wage family’s own earnings, and probably the help of a local food pantry.

During the Great Recession, SNAP clearly helped Iowans. In our slow recovery from the last national recession, the number of SNAP recipients rose to over 423,000. As things have gotten better, that number has steadily fallen and was under 393,000 as of last month — a decline of 7 percent. That’s the way it is supposed to work.

But for those who still need it, SNAP is there. This critical point should not be missed by distractions like the bill in Missouri, or others that may crop up — even in our state.

The fact that SNAP exists says more about us as a nation than do snarky shoppers who stalk the poor in the checkout line.

Do we really want people who don’t even believe in SNAP to nitpick what people can buy with it? Because those are often the people attempting to call the shots on what goes in the shopping cart.

I’m not buying what they’re selling. They can check my cart.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project
 Hear Mike Owen and KVFD’s Mike Devine discuss this issue in this April 9 interview.

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Keeping Ahead of the Kansans

Posted April 9, 2015 by iowapolicypoints
Categories: Budget and Tax, Economic Opportunity, Organization

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

As state legislators consider drastic cuts in Iowa’s income tax, they would do well to consider the experience of our neighbor Kansas, which enacted a huge income tax cut in 2012, and cut taxes again in 2013. These cuts have dramatically reduced state funding for schools, health care, and other services.

It is instructive to consider as well the experience in Wisconsin, where a large personal income tax cut took effect at the start of 2013, with similar results: subsequent job growth of 3.4 percent, farther below the norm than Kansas’ 3.5 percent from the implementation of its tax cuts.

None of this should come as a surprise. Most major academic research studies have concluded that individual income tax cuts do not boost state economic growth; in fact, states that cut income taxes the most in the 1990s or in the early 2000s had slower growth in jobs and income than other states.

Businesses need an educated workforce, and drastic cuts to education are likely to make it difficult to attract new workers, who care about their children’s schools at least as much as they care about taxes.

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director, Iowa Policy Project

See Fisher’s Iowa Fiscal Partnership Policy Snapshot on this issue.

 

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Maximum focus on minimum wage

Posted April 1, 2015 by iowapolicypoints
Categories: Economic Opportunity, Organization

Tags: , ,

There are lots ways to look at the minimum wage issue. Some make sense, and some do not. There are good numbers and bad numbers, the latter usually tainted by ideology or politics.

Any discussion about the minimum wage in Iowa — whether on the floor of the Iowa House or Senate, or outside the Capitol in any coffee shop or street corner — should focus on the clear, central realities of this issue, with reliable and credible numbers.

How much?

Iowa’s first minimum wage passed in 1989, almost half a century after the first federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour took effect in 1938. That first Iowa minimum wage was phased in over three years.

So the minimum wage has long been established in public policy as a floor for wages. But it’s a sinking floor.

  • The wage has not been increased in Iowa since January 1, 2008, when it went to $7.25.
  • Had it kept up with inflation since 1992, the Iowa minimum wage would now be $7.91 (February 2015).

The latter shows just how conservative is the legislation pending in the Iowa Senate. A minimum wage bill would raise the wage to $8 in July — about where it would be had the original state minimum been indexed to inflation in 1992 — and bump it to $8.75 a year later. Given that this issue is only rarely reviewed in the Legislature and that the wage is not indexed, it would not take long for inflation to catch $8.75 and certainly we’d be seeing another debate in a few years.

The $8.75 proposal from the Senate is a considerable compromise from the $10.10 federal minimum proposed a couple of years ago by Senator Tom Harkin and President Obama, and from the $15 sought by people trying to bring the minimum closer to a “living wage.”

For whom?

An increase to $8.75 would benefit:
•   12 percent of Iowa workers
•   112,000 Iowa workers directly*
•   69,000 Iowa workers indirectly*
•   181,000 Iowa workers in total — about 3 1/2 times the number of people working at the current minimum.

150205-MWgraphic

The minimum wage matters

No matter the politics, what no one can deny is that the minimum wage is not enough — not nearly enough — to get by. Many Iowa families in Iowa depend greatly on that wage.

When minimum-wage workers account on average for 44 percent of their family income, it is certain that any increase will benefit a large number of Iowa working families.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project

 

* Estimates from Economic Policy Institute. Indirectly affected workers have an hourly wage just above the proposed minimum wage. They would receive a raise as employers adjusted pay scales upward to reflect the new minimum wage.
See our two-page fact sheets on:

Iowa impact of $8.75 minimum wage

Iowa impact of $10.10 minimum wage

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Start with ‘zero’ on credits

Posted March 11, 2015 by iowapolicypoints
Categories: Budget and Tax, Organization

Tags: , , , , ,

It was​ fascinating Tuesday to see Iowa lawmakers talking about zero-based budgeting — starting every budget from scratch — when they have refused to do the same with tax credits.

Spending on tax credits — including millions to companies that don’t pay any state income tax — just keeps going on and on.

And on.

And on.

Companies basically get to appropriate state money to themselves. Quite a deal if you can get it.

If the state were to sunset business tax credits, as recommended in 2010 by a special governor-appointed Tax Credit Review Panel, lawmakers could review each one and decide which are actually producing a public benefit, whether any of them are money well spent. If so, they could renew the credit. If not, we could put our resources where they make more sense for all Iowans.

Maybe a part-time legislature could start with a zero base on tax credits before we talk about it for an entire state budget.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project

Beyond politics: Teacher pay in context

Posted March 4, 2015 by iowapolicypoints
Categories: Budget and Tax, Economic Opportunity, Organization

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Funding for Iowa schools has been under discussion for nearly the entire legislative session. The Iowa House has one version of a funding bill and the Iowa Senate has one with a higher funding level. Schools use their money for a variety of things that support the education of students from kindergarten to the senior year of high school. One obvious part of funding is teacher salaries.

During debate at the Capitol, State Representative Greg Forristall called for a salary freeze for teachers. According to Iowa Public Radio, Forristall stated in the Education Committee that farmers are expected to make 30 percent less in this coming year. “Maybe this is the year that teachers could accept last year’s salary,” he said.[1]

Also according to Iowa Public Radio, the speaker of the Iowa House, Kraig Paulsen, said teachers are bargaining for raises that cost too much money.[2]

So how have salaries changed over the years in Iowa? The National Center for Educational Statistics gathers average annual salary for teachers in public elementary and secondary schools by state going back to school year 1969-70.[3]

In that year salaries for Iowa teachers converted to present dollars averaged $51,170. In the school year 2012-13, the most recent figures, the same average teacher earned $51,528. That’s a difference of only $360 over almost 45 years.

Put another way: The Mrs. Brown or Ms. Green who taught you was paid about the same as your kid’s teacher gets today.

Secondly, Iowa average salaries are below the national average of $56,383.

Iowa teachers could go over our northern border and earn almost $5,000 more in Minnesota. On the other hand, South Dakota teachers on average earn $12,000 less. (South Dakota teachers even make less than teachers do in Mississippi.) Iowa is near the middle of average salaries for all teachers compared to other states.

When it comes to starting teacher salaries, however, Iowa ranks 33rd in the nation at $33,226.[4] We are similar to Wisconsin and Kansas. We are below Illinois and Minnesota as expected. What is surprising is that starting salaries here are almost $3,000 below Alabama and even lower than in Texas.

The disagreement in funding for schools includes many aspects. Before one should believe that teachers have bargained for too much or need a pay freeze, it might be good to look at this data.

[1] http://iowapublicradio.org/post/republican-lawmaker-freeze-teacher-salaries
[2] http://iowapublicradio.org/post/paulsen-teacher-raises-too-big
[3] http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_211.60.asp
[4] http://www.nea.org/home/2012-2013-average-starting-teacher-salary.html
IPP-osterberg-75Posted by David Osterberg, Co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project

What happens at $8.75 in Iowa?

Posted February 24, 2015 by iowapolicypoints
Categories: Economic Opportunity, Organization

Tags: , , ,

There are serious competing ideas in Iowa about the minimum wage — whether to raise it, and by how much. Iowa lawmakers are currently discussing the issue; the Governor is staying out of it.

What cannot be denied is that the minimum wage is not enough — not nearly enough — to get by, and that regardless of political spin to the contrary, there are many families in Iowa whose household budgets depend greatly on that wage. Any increase will benefit a large number of Iowa working families.

We have illustrated with data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) how an increase to $10.10 from the current $7.25 would affect Iowans. That two-page piece is here. That proposal would raise the hourly wage for an estimated 306,000 Iowans (216,000 directly, and 90,000 indirectly*).

A proposal in the Iowa Senate would raise the wage by a smaller amount, to $8.75. Again with analysis from EPI, below is what could be expected if the wage were raised to $8.75 in July 2016. Compared to the current $7.25, the new wage would affect:

•   12 percent of Iowa workers
•   112,000 Iowa workers directly
•   69,000 Iowa workers indirectly*
•   181,000 Iowa workers in total — about 3 1/2 times the number of people working at the current minimum.

150205-MWgraphic

More impacts are shown in the adjacent graphic. EPI projects increased wages of $147 million and increased economic activity (GDP) of $93 million.

There are those who dismiss the minimum wage as a minor issue. They are wrong, and the numbers show this.

* Workers affected indirectly have wages slightly above the proposed minimum and will be affected as pay scales adjust.
Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project

‘Choose 2’ to reduce water pollution

Posted February 6, 2015 by iowapolicypoints
Categories: Energy & Environment, Organization

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Where Governor Branstad chooses to promote confrontation, Iowa legislators could be looking for an opportunity to stop chronic pollution of Iowa’s lakes, rivers and streams.

The Governor spoke of “war on rural Iowa” after the Des Moines Water Works announced its Board of Trustees voted to issue a notice of intent to sue the supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties “in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollutants into the Raccoon River,” threatening Des Moines’ drinking water.

There doesn’t have to be “war.”

The answer is first an acknowledgment that the water problems are real and can be addressed without causing great pain — financially or in health — to anyone inside or outside city limits, upstream or downstream.

Supporters of the new Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), which was hailed as a promising effort to improve Iowa water quality by reducing nutrient pollution from the state by about half, plead for more time. A century is enough, say detractors. Agricultural interests have had about that much time to use totally voluntary approaches and nutrient pollution is now a serious problem.

At least part of the answer could well be “Choose 2,” which stems from the July report from the Iowa Policy Project, “A Threat Unmet: Why Iowa’s Nutrient Strategy Falls Short Against Water Pollution.” The IPP report offered six ideas to make a voluntary system better.

The list is not exhaustive, but the proposals are serious and science-based. The “Choose 2” concept is part of the list, and it is simple: Mandate that every producer, farm owner or renter, adopt two runoff-reducing steps — but let the farmer choose which steps.

For the many farmers already taking meaningful steps to reduce nutrient runoff, there is no impact. They have already started to reduce their pollution and can show they have.

Those who are not currently taking any steps, and thereby causing the lion’s share of the problem, would have to do something. But they would get to choose from among meaningful approaches that have been promoted by the Iowa Soybean Association, such as cover crops, grassed waterways, contour farming, terraces, bioreactors and conservation uses for oxbows. Producers could take two actions that best fit their operation, land and economic situation.

The proposal is simple but effective, and keeps a voluntary component to a solution. Isn’t it worth a discussion? Isn’t it better than knowing we’re allowing the poisoning of our water? Isn’t it better than just calling water pollution someone else’s problem and letting it go?

Posted by David Osterberg

IPP-osterberg-75David Osterberg, co-founder of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project, is a former state legislator who chaired the House Agriculture Committee and is a professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa. Contact: dosterberg@iowapolicyproject.org.

See our report: “A Threat Unmet: Why Iowa’s Nutrient Strategy Falls Short Against Water Pollution,” at www.iowapolicyproject.org.

See similar versions of this piece as guest opinions in:

The Sioux City Journal, Feb. 5, 2015: “Choose 2” would provide more protection for water in Iowa

The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Jan. 31, 2015: Iowa should “Choose 2” to reduce water pollution


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