Tight margin — big difference

The two-vote House margin on the Farm Bill would mean big changes for struggling Iowa families if accepted by the Senate.

More Iowans than you might expect have a stake in what happens in Washington in the coming days on the Farm Bill. It’s not just farmers.

While the Farm Bill addresses conservation, commodities, rural development, and crop insurance, among other issues, it also carries reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly known as Food Stamps.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, SNAP constituted 80 percent of spending.[i] That investment makes a big difference to about 1 in 9 Iowans — and to the local stores where they use their SNAP benefit. About 350,000 Iowans received SNAP assistance in April of 2018.[ii]

The Senate proposal, which may come to a vote next week, differs markedly from the House bill, which passed 213-211 despite bipartisan opposition. The House bill would cut SNAP for 1 million households, imposing new and unnecessary work requirements on households where people are already working, or unable to work.[iii]

Robert Greenstein, president of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, summarized the challenge for low-income working people under the House bill:

Robert Greenstein,
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Among those likely to lose food assistance are a considerable number of working people — including parents and older workers — who have low-wage jobs such as home health aides or cashiers and often face fluctuating hours and bouts of temporary unemployment that could put their SNAP benefits at risk. In addition, substantial numbers of people with serious physical or mental health conditions, as well as many caregivers, may struggle either to meet the monthly work-hours requirement or to provide sufficient documentation to prove they qualify for an exemption — and, consequently, may be at risk of losing nutrition assistance.[iv]

The Senate bill looks to improve the SNAP job training program by using feedback from local employers on the skills and opportunities needed in the area. It continues to invest in pilot testing of job training programs, while House-proposed work requirements have not been tested in such state-level pilots.[v]

The bill would also focus assistance on underserved populations, fund nutrition education initiatives, and reauthorize SNAP. It reduces verification barriers for elderly and disabled households by extending certification periods for two to three years.

SNAP is critically important for child development, educational attainment, preventing disease, and lifetime earnings.[vi]

The Senate and House Farm Bill proposals offer decidedly different directions for a proven anti-poverty program that already assures that thousands of Iowans receive nutrition assistance.

Natalie Veldhouse is a research associate for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. nveldhouse@iowapolicyproject.org

 

[i] United States Department of Agriculture, “Projected Spending Under the 2014 Farm Bill.” January 2018. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-commodity-policy/projected-spending-under-the-2014-farm-bill/
[ii] Iowa Department of Human Services, “F-1 Food Assistance Program State Summary – April 2018.” May 2018. http://publications.iowa.gov/27559/
[iii] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill Would Increase Food Insecurity and Hardship.” April 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/chairman-conaways-farm-bill-would-increase-food-insecurity-and-hardship
[iv] Robert Greenstein, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Greenstein: Partisan House Farm Bill Would Turn Clock Back on Efforts to Reduce Hunger and Hardship.” June 21, 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/press/statements/greenstein-partisan-house-farm-bill-would-turn-clock-back-on-efforts-to-reduce
[v] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Senate Agriculture Committee’s Bill Strengthens SNAP and Avoids Harming SNAP Households.” June 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/senate-agriculture-committees-bipartisan-farm-bill-strengthens-snap-and
[vi] Feeding America, “Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation.” 2009. https://www.nokidhungry.org/sites/default/files/child-economy-study.pdf

New evidence on old water problem: It’s grown, and is getting worse

Vegetative buffers can address the main causes of the worsening algal bloom problem: climate change and nutrient runoff.

The Iowa Policy Project released a new report that brings attention to the harmful algal bloom problem that is not being addressed adequately in the state.

There have been numerous reports and articles that discuss the problem, including an IPP report that was released nearly 10 years ago, but what is different about this new report is that it highlights new science and evidence that indicates that the problem is growing worse.

The 2014 water crisis in Toledo, Ohio, where toxic blue-green algae shut down the water system, was a wake-up call for those responsible for ensuring our drinking water is safe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are therefore aware of the looming threat posed by blue-green algae.

Recent studies have shown that the harmful algal bloom problem is more prolific and this is tied to changes in weather and landscapes due to climate change and due to increased nutrient runoff.

Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a framework that was created to address the runoff issue in Iowa but new evidence suggests that the NRS is not enough to tackle the problem.

One approach endorsed by IPP’s new report may be effective in protecting Iowans from harmful algal blooms: the implementation of mandatory vegetative buffers throughout the state. Minnesota and Vermont already have promulgated such laws for regulations and buffers along waterways —a conservation practice proven to dramatically reduce nutrient runoff.

Buffers also have an added benefit in that they can act as a carbon sink or as carbon storage, thereby helping to curb climate change. In other words, vegetative buffers can address the main causes of the worsening algal bloom problem: climate change and nutrient runoff.

Carolyn Buckingham, an attorney with a background in environmental law and policy, is lead author of a new report for IPP on issues caused by cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in Iowa water.

Find the report here.

Too far for a tax-cutter

Home to roost: An advocate for lower taxes in the state Senate, Larry McKibben as a Regent sees an “attack” on higher education funding that will drive tuition increases.

Editor’s Note: This piece ran in the Wednesday, June 13, 2018, Cedar Rapids Gazette as a guest opinion from IPP’s David Osterberg.

The attack on higher education funding by the governor and legislative leadership has gone too far for at least one longtime tax-cutter.

Former state Sen. Larry McKibben, a member of the Iowa Board of Regents, expressed his concern about state support of universities. The regents voted Thursday to raise university tuition rates at Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa universities, following $40 million in state funding cuts.

McKibben was forthright in blaming the legislative session for an increase in tuition at the three state universities and the loss of professors to better positions after years of low salary increases. From The Gazette’s story on the regents’ meeting:

“We have lost great folks, and now we are going to have to raise tuition,” McKibben said, noting that will persist “as long as we continue what I believe is, in my time on the board, the worst state government attack on our three public universities that I can ever remember.”

In fairness, the groundwork has been laid for this latest attack over many years. An Iowa Fiscal Partnership report in 2012 showed how spending on the UI, ISU and UNI dropped from fiscal year 2000 through fiscal year 2012.

An Iowa Policy Project analysis by Brandon Borkovec showed that adjusting for inflation, state funding for Iowa public universities has declined since fiscal year 2001 by 40 percent at UI, 42 percent at ISU, and 28 percent at UNI.

As a percentage of university budgets, the state share dropped by almost half from fiscal years 2001 to 2016.

Some of this happened on McKibben’s watch as one of the Legislature’s most powerful lawmakers on tax policy — one who often looked for ways to cut taxes, as he did in 2003 with a proposed flat tax that would have cost more than $500 million.

He did not intervene to rein in the Research Activities Credit, which sends more than $40 million a year to profitable corporations that pay no income taxes to the state.

He turned the other way as corporations raided Iowa’s treasury through tax loopholes at a cost of $60 million to $100 million a year.

As Regent McKibben, his new concern is understandable and his advocacy for college students laudable. He wants Iowa voters to pay attention and ask what candidates will do about severe underfunding that he says will assure more tuition increases. From the story in The Gazette: “I look forward to hearing the candidates say that,” McKibben said. “What are you going to do about higher education and our three great universities?” And what are you going to do to bring them back to level?”

These same trends were happening when McKibben was a legislator. Now, it seems, the governor and state legislative leaders have gone too far, even for him.

David Osterberg is founder and former executive director of Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City. Comments: dosterberg@iowapolicyproject.org

Housing threat to 65,000 Iowans

New proposals would destabilize secure housing for thousands of Iowans, with tremendous impacts on child development including social and emotional well-being, and physical health.

Over 36,000 low-income households in the state of Iowa depend on rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)[1] Rental programs are crucially important for the financial security of Iowans who are able to receive benefits. However, 3 of 4 households qualifying for rental assistance are unable to access them due to funding constraints.[2] A proposal from the Trump Administration and a House bill proposed by Rep Dennis Ross seek to further stifle this shrinking program.

Iowans projected to be affected by housing proposals
By congressional district (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)


In Iowa, the average income of households using rental assistance is just over $12,000. Ninety-seven percent of Iowans using rental assistance fit the category of very low income, meaning they earn 50 percent of the local median income or less. Housing affordability is an issue in both rural and urban areas — 18,700 of Iowa households using rental assistance are in non-metropolitan areas.[3]

The HUD proposal seeks to increase the percentage of a household’s income that they must contribute to rent from 30 to 35 percent. That 17 percent increase is on average a $55 monthly rent increase for families.[4] The changes proposed by the Trump Administration would impact 65,400 Iowans, including 24,600 children. The plan also stands to triple minimum rents for households with a non-elderly or disabled member[5] and eliminate deductions used by the elderly and disabled, and by working families for childcare expenses.

The Ross bill also would eliminate income deductions for eligibility and increase rents for Iowa’s elderly and disabled rental assistance recipients.[6] The bill would impact over 24,400 Iowa households receiving rental assistance; with a 41 percent monthly rent increase for recipients.

Rental assistance encourages work by freeing up household income for work-enabling basic needs such as food, transportation and child care. Secure housing has tremendous impacts on child development including social and emotional well-being, and physical health.[7] These two proposals threaten to destabilize housing for many working low-income households with children, as well as for the elderly and disabled all across the state of Iowa.

Natalie Veldhouse is a research associate for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. Contact: nveldhouse@iowapolicyproject.org

 

[1] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of 2016 HUD administrative microdata

[2] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Policy Basics: Federal Rental Assistance.” November 2017. https://www.cbpp.org/research/housing/policy-basics-federal-rental-assistance

[3] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Assisted Housing: National and Local Dataset.” 2017. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/assthsg.html#2009-2017_query

[4] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Trump Plan Would Raise Rents on Working Families, Elderly, People with Disabilities.” April 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/blog/trump-plan-would-raise-rents-on-working-families-elderly-people-with-disabilities

[5] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Trump Plan to Raise Minimum Rents Would Put Nearly a Million Children at Risk of Homelessness.” April 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/blog/trump-plan-to-raise-minimum-rents-would-put-nearly-a-million-children-at-risk-of-homelessness-0

[6] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “House Bill Would Allow Sharp Rent Increases on Struggling Low-Income People.” May 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/blog/house-bill-would-allow-sharp-rent-increases-on-struggling-low-income-people

[7] Research and Practice, “US Housing Insecurity and the Health of Very Young Children.” August 2011. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300139

 

 

15 yards, loss of revenue

Governor Reynolds’ remarks about her tax cuts for the wealthy fail any test of accuracy.

It’s time to throw the penalty flag on Governor Kim Reynolds. Her remarks about the tax cuts she signed into law Wednesday for the wealthy fail any test of accuracy. Iowans need to know the facts.

It would be different if she had acknowledged, and made a case for:

•  massive tax cuts for the wealthiest.
•  cutting revenues, assuring continued suppression of education and opportunity, public health and safety and investments in the future of Iowa.
•  continued massive corporate tax giveaways, as business tax credits have doubled in five years.

But those were not her messages — and those messages will not be repeated here. The Governor is (1) deceiving Iowans about some policies she has adopted, and (2) ignoring likely damage to the economy from these tax cuts.

She even put off some forward strides she had suggested but abandoned during the recent legislative session. The concept of “reform” is gone, as the bill does nothing to simplify taxes for at least four years, and leaves in place a system that already was heavily skewed to benefit the wealthy.

Here are a few critical realities:

  The income tax savings to a middle class family next year are only $3 to $4 a week (according to the Department of Revenue) — while the sales tax increase will offset such savings for many.
  Millionaires, on the other hand, will see on average an $18,773 cut for the year.
  Larger tax cuts scheduled to take place in five years might not happen because they are triggered by a revenue target that will be very difficult to meet. (But count on tax-cut proponents to campaign on them.)
  Instead of adjusting taxes in a way that cuts would be paid for, this legislation will actually take $300 to $400 million a year out of the budget. Those dollars could have gone to adequately fund education or public safety or mental health care.
  The bill makes $40 million in corporate income tax cuts.
•  The bill provides an unneeded tax break for wealthy earners of “pass-through” income from business.

Meanwhile, the bill fails to reform business tax credits, which have doubled in five years, to $400 million. And it also fails to raise the standard deduction or eliminate federal deductibility, both of which the Governor had proposed but compromised away.

As reviews and promotions of the tax bill proceed, keep these points in mind. And watch for more information, because the analysis will continue on a bill developed in secret, for signing at an invitation-only ceremony.

Mike Owen is executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. Contact: mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Tax bill: Know five points

The new tax plan abandons real tax reform for costly changes slanted heavily to the rich. It is more likely to hurt the Iowa economy than to help it.

Here are five things you need to know about the final version of the tax bill now scheduled for a vote in the Iowa Legislature this Saturday: (1) It is not income tax reform, (2) It is not a middle-class tax cut, (3) It is more skewed to the richest Iowans than previous bills, (4) It is very expensive and will force cuts in education, public safety and other services, and (5) It is more likely to hurt the Iowa economy than to help it.

As we have pointed out previously, real income tax reform would rein in expensive business tax credits that have little effectiveness, eliminate federal deductibility, increase recognition of the costs of raising a family, and raise the Iowa standard deduction — which would both simplify taxes for thousands of Iowans, and target tax cuts at lower and middle-income taxpayers. The tax bill does none of these things for the next four years.

Earlier versions of the House bill would have increased the standard deduction and eliminated federal deductibility, but those provisions were jettisoned in favor of $40 million in corporate tax cuts and more tax preferences for high-income business owners. The bill does little to reform business tax credits, which have doubled in five years. It adds a new and expensive loophole — a deduction for pass-through income from certain businesses.

For the next four tax years the bulk of the tax savings go to the most well off. In 2021, almost half of the tax cuts will go to the richest 2.5 percent of Iowa taxpayers, those making $250,000 or more. Their taxes are reduced by 18 percent, over twice the cut for those in the middle. For those making over a million dollars, the tax cut will average $24,636.

Meanwhile, those in the middle will see income tax cuts of $100 to $300 over the next four years, much of which will be taken back in increased sales taxes of $35 to $60.

All of this comes at a high cost to the state — over $400 million a year by 2021. With over half the budget going to education, this means the underfunding of our public schools and the rising tuition and debt for our community college and university students will continue.

The bill’s only “trigger” does nothing to guarantee fiscal sustainability, its purported purpose. The $400 million hit to the general fund will happen no matter how slow the Iowa economy, and state revenues, grow. We could hit a recession in the next two years, and those tax cuts will remain in place.

The only trigger governs an additional round of tax cuts for 2023. If the revenue target is met (and it would require growth rates of over 5 percent per year) then the annual cost of the bill jumps to $643 million. Only then would federal deductibility end, and the higher federal standard deduction come into play.

If the bill’s backers are counting on growth to come to the rescue, they are willfully ignoring all evidence to the contrary. The last major income tax cuts in Iowa, in 1997-98, not only failed to stimulate growth, but likely contributed to the subsequent slowing of the state’s economy. The tax cuts in Kansas led to slower growth.

Peter Fisher is research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

House tax bill backs wealthy

It’s the Middle-Class Mirage: The current proposal in the Iowa House backs the wealthiest, not Iowans in the middle.

Editor’s Note: As tax negotiations continue in Des Moines, the ultimate House plan has yet to emerge. This post is based on the latest House bill available.

The “middle class tax cut” proposed by the Iowa House is a mirage. For the vast majority of Iowans, much or most of the small reduction in income taxes is taken back by the increase in sales tax — the other part of the House bill.

Compared to what middle-income Iowans paid in state income taxes when they filed this month for 2017 — and what they would have paid in the future if federal taxes had not been cut — the income tax cut in House File 2489 amounts to about $100 on average. Those with income between $20,000 and $100,000 represent over half of Iowa taxpayers. But they will face higher sales tax payments averaging about $47 a year. The net savings will amount to about $4 a month — but that’s on average. For some, there will not be a savings at all.

Table 1. Top 1 percent would take over one-third of tax benefit
House Bill: Income Tax Reduction Compared to Pre-Federal Baseline*
Iowa residents, tax year 2023

Book1

*Reduction in taxes compared to projected tax payments in 2023 under Iowa law but without the effect of the Federal tax cut legislation.
Source: IFP analysis of Iowa Department of Revenue estimates

For those at the top — the 0.7 percent of Iowa resident tax filers with income over $500,000 — the story is different. The average tax cut is $6,852, offset by on average $224, or less, in sales taxes and leaving them with at least $6,600 in net savings.

And that small group of well-off taxpayers gets 36.4 percent of the total income tax cut.

While the top 1 percent gets a tax cut averaging 11 percent, the other 99 percent get an average cut of 4 percent. If sales taxes were taken into account, the results would be even more skewed.

Table 2. Effects of Sales Tax Provisions of the House Bill — Iowa residents

Book1b

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, April 2018

2010-PFw5464

Peter Fisher is research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org