Improve water quality funding equitably

Expand existing state programs to improve waters and overall balance in Iowa tax system.

Iowa has an opportunity to advance equity while improving water quality. The constitutional amendment voters overwhelmingly passed in 2010 gave us the option to fund water quality programs with the sales tax, but it’s only a starting place, and we need to explore more equitable funding solutions.

The sales-tax option needs to be paired with options that enhance equity in the way we fund all public services. A comprehensive approach adds other sources — even as we recognize that Iowa policy makers have refused the voters’ clearly stated desire for action.

A new IPP report offers policy options to improve water quality in an equitable way. Iowa voters, in a 2010 statewide referendum, showed their willingness to raise the sales tax in order to fund water quality efforts. The trust fund they authorized remains empty today, nine years later.

As we noted in an April 2019 report, Iowa water quality funding is inadequate.[1] Some will claim new water-quality funding passed in 2018, but it was at best window dressing. New programs had no new revenue source and added little to the mainly federal nutrient reduction funding that exists now.

The sales-tax option remains on the table and is promoted by serious advocates for action. The challenge is to find a way to offset the impact of a sales-tax increase on lower- and moderate-income households. Already, those lower-income families pay the most of any income group, as a percentage of their income, on sales tax. This drives the overall regressive nature of Iowa’s state and local tax system.[2] Analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) shows why a tax on purchases hits lower income families harder (see graph). Lower-income families spend most of what they earn, and they spend a large share of it on goods and services that are subject to the state sales tax. This is less the case the higher you go on the income scale.

Basic RGB

 

How to fix it? We see two immediate options using existing programs: Boost the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help working families, and expand Disabled and Senior Citizen Property Tax Credit and Rent Reimbursement Program.

How to pay for it? Use at least part of the revenue from a 1-cent sales tax increase. The constitutional amendment directs three-eights of the first cent to the clean water and recreation trust fund. The key is what happens with the other five-eighths.

According to ITEP data, increasing the state EITC to 20.5 percent of the federal credit (from the current 15 percent) would fully offset that average $124 yearly sales-tax increase for a working family eligible for the EITC. The Rent Reimbursement program can contribute for other low-income families. Those two steps — EITC and Rent Reimbursement — would cost an estimated $30 million,[3] only a small share of the “extra” sales-tax revenue from a 1-cent increase

Taxing the polluter is another policy option for addressing a broader equity concern. Fertilizer used in the agricultural sector is the source of the contamination, yet it is exempt from the general Iowa sales tax. Removing the fertilizer exemption would bring a substantial source of water quality funding: about $110 million annually.[4]

In an already tax system favoring the highest earners, raising the sales tax is not a preferred option. But it can be improved and turned into an opportunity to both improve services and the overall balance in Iowa’s tax system. Those interested in both equity and clean water could embrace that opportunity.

[1] David Osterberg and Natalie Veldhouse, “Lip Service: Iowa’s Inadequate Commitment to Clean Water.” April 2019. Iowa Policy Project. http://iowapolicyproject.org/2019docs/190424-WQfunding.pdf

[2] Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, “Iowa: Who Pays? 6th Edition.” October 2018. https://itep.org/whopays/iowa/

[3] EITC: $124 for each of the 209,000 taxpayers who receive this credit equals $25,916,000. Renters’ credit: $124 for each of the 32,000 who receive the credit equals $3,968,000. Total about $30 million for the two programs.

[4] $1,845,469,000 X 6 % = $ 110,728,140. The total in the 2017 Census of Agriculture was much smaller than the 2012 figure $2,587,059,000.

 

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

Water funding exposes shallow commitment

Recent initiative fails to meet needs to improve Iowa water quality

Voters have indicated their support for increasing funding to improve water quality in Iowa, earmarking part of the next sales tax increase for clean water. So far, the protected trust fund for outdoor recreation and water quality remains empty.

Our latest water quality report addresses these issues:

  • What has been the state’s spending commitment to water quality over the past 15 years?
  • How much of state and federal dollars goes to reduce nutrient pollution in Iowa?
  • How much spending is needed to make meaningful water quality progress?
  • How can the state raise adequate revenue to make an impact?

We identified 16 primarily state-level programs that fund water quality improvements. Funding in the most recent year hasn’t even reached 2008 to 2009 levels.

The Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), implemented in 2013, was created to reduce nutrient pollution that creates a hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The strategy was advertised as a new commitment by the state to reduce Iowa’s pollution of our own rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. Even with the NRS, we find that state water quality spending has dropped off and struggled to return to pre-2008 recession levels.

190424-WQ-Fig1

The Water Resources Coordinating Council is tasked with overseeing NRS progress, and measures the financial resources dedicated to reducing nutrient pollution from the state of Iowa to the Mississippi River system. The most recent NRS report shows $512 million was spent in state and federal dollars on Iowa nutrient reduction in 2017.[1] However, the state is largely riding the wave here; the real money comes from federal funding.

While it was assumed that adopting the NRS would increase Iowa’s commitment to water quality, it did not — though at the same time pollution has increased. Recent research indicates Iowa’s share of nutrient loading into the Mississippi and Missouri river watersheds actually increased between 2000 and 2016.[2]

In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill that appropriates $282 million to water quality efforts over the next 12 years.[3] This gesture compares poorly even to existing — and lacking — government water quality spending. Iowa is nowhere near to what is needed.

How much money does it really take to make a meaningful impact on Iowa water quality? The NRS document, written mainly by Iowa State University, estimated the cost of reducing nonpoint contamination under three scenarios. All were in the billions of dollars.

The Iowa Soybean Association estimates for nutrient reduction costs in just one river basin, the Lime Creek Watershed,[4] implies a statewide need of $1.4 billion a year for about 15 years. These estimates demonstrate the inadequacy of the 2018 spending bill.

Current investments are not resulting in discernible improvements in Iowa’s water quality. Two options available for generating the amount of revenue needed include removing the exemption of fertilizer used in agriculture and taxing it like other commodities.

A second option is fully funding the environmental trust that voters approved in a statewide referendum in 2010. Estimated revenue from either of these sources would bring more than $100 million per year. We need to tap new sources to make our state commitment to water quality equal to the task. Until then, we are only paying lip service to the problem.

[1] Iowa Water Resources Coordinating Council, “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report. Page 9.

http://www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/NRS2018AnnualReportDocs/INRS_2018_AnnualReport_PartOne_Final_R20190304_WithSummary.pdf

[2] Christopher Jones, Jacob Nielsen, Keith Schilling, & Larry Weber, “Iowa stream nitrate in the Gulf of Mexico.” April 2018. PLOS. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195930&type=printable

[3] Brianne Pfannenstiel, “Reynolds signs water quality bill, her first as governor.” January 2018. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/31/reynolds-signs-water-quality-bill-her-first-governor/1082084001/

[4] Iowa Soybean Association Environmental Programs & Services, “Lime Creek Watershed Improvement Plan: A roadmap for improved water quality, sustained agricultural productivity & reduced flood risk. N.D. https://www.iasoybeans.com/search/?q=lime+creek

 

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

New obstacles for Iowa families

Millions for work support oversight that would likely result in no savings

Senate File 334 could take food off the table and restrict health care access for some Iowans, while taking money away from much needed programs. The bill would spend $25 million per year after an initial $16 million in FY2020 to hire more than 520 state employees to verify eligibility for Iowans on work support programs such as Medicaid and SNAP (food assistance).[1] This legislation is brought to you by a Koch-funded lobbying group out of Florida.

Iowa’s Legislative Service Agency analysis indicates that the bill’s proposed “quarterly reviews have the potential to reduce public assistance enrollment, but no significant savings are expected because many items that would be reviewed quarterly are currently checked on a frequent basis.”[2]

SNAP helped more than 330,000 Iowans in January of 2019.[3] More than 560,000 Iowans are covered by Medicaid.[4] Many Iowans receiving help from these work support programs are children; many more are elderly persons in nursing homes.

Make no mistake — this bill has the sole intention of getting Iowans off of work support programs.

One in six Iowans living in working households is unable to afford basic needs such as groceries and health care on income alone.[5] Low wages are the problem and spending millions in taxpayer money to duplicate work support verification will do little to help Iowans get ahead.

SNAP is important for child development, educational outcomes and lifetime earnings.[6] Half of Medicaid enrollees in Iowa are children,[7] and 44 percent of Medicaid spending goes to services for older Iowans.[8] The challenge to Iowa policy makers is how to make sure people who need these supports can get them, not to put new obstacles in their way.

Policies that would really help Iowans get ahead should concentrate on raising wages to account for rising worker productivity. Helpful policies should reinstate workers’ rights and protections. Other policy solutions include expanding Iowa’s Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Assistance. It is to these solutions where Iowans need to turn their attention.

 

[1] Jess Benson, “Fiscal Note: SF 334 – Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Eligibility Verification.” February 2019. Iowa Legislative Services Agency. https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/FN/1038439.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Iowa Department of Human Services, “Food Assistance Report Series F-1.” January 2019. http://publications.iowa.gov/29783/1/FA-F1-2016%202019-01.pdf

[4] American Community Survey, “Health Insurance Coverage Status and Type of Coverage by State and Age for All People: 2017. September 2018. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/health-insurance/acs-hi.html

[5] Peter Fisher and Natalie Veldhouse, “The Cost of Living in Iowa – 2018 Edition: Many Iowa Households Struggle to Meet Basic Needs.” July 2018. Iowa Policy Project. http://iowapolicyproject.org/2018docs/180702-COL2018-Part2.pdf

[6] Feeding America, “Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation.” 2009. https://www.nokidhungry.org/sites/default/files/child-economy-study.pdf

[7] American Community Survey, “Health Insurance Coverage Status and type of Coverage by State and Age for All People: 2017.” Table H105. September 2018. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/cps-hi.html

[8] Steve Eiken, Kate Sredl, Brian Burwell & Angie Amos, “Medicaid Expenditures for Long-Term Services and Supports in FY 2016.” Table 31. Iowa LTSS Percentage Trends. https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/ltss/downloads/reports-and-evaluations/ltssexpenditures2016.pdf

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

Drug testing: Needless, costly, burdensome

To assure access to health care, drug testing just gets in the way

Multiple bills introduced in the 2019 Iowa legislative session would limit access to health care by posing bureaucratic hurdles to working families needing help.

Drug-testing Medicaid recipients is one of those ideas. Already shown to be costly and ineffective in other states, the idea is one more solution in search of a problem. Studies show that drug use among work support recipients is lower than the general population.[1] In most states, less than 1 percent of applicants have tested positive.[2]

Neighboring Missouri provides a lesson for Iowa on cost. Missouri spent $336,297 on drug testing of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 2017.[3] After initial screening, the state tested 108 of 32,774 TANF applicants, finding 11 positive results. That’s an investment of over $30,000 per positive test. Another 305 applicants did not show up for a drug test or refused to take one.[4]

Iowa is familiar with these costs. Last session, a similar bill was proposed to implement drug testing for SNAP and Medicaid recipients. A Department of Human Services administrator estimated that costs to the state would have been at least $100 million.[5]

Medicaid plays a vital role in insuring more than 260,000 Iowa children.[6] Restricting access to medical care through drug testing poses a threat to child well being, by reducing resources available to the household as a whole.[7]

Over 225,000 Iowans living in working households struggle to make ends meet.[8] Medicaid and Affordable Care Act subsidies are important work supports that help families get by when wages aren’t enough to cover basic costs.

In Iowa, the large majority of Medicaid recipients who can work do work. Eighty-seven percent live in a working family and 72 percent work themselves.[9]

Instead of making it more difficult for low-income families to get the medical care they need, Iowa can invest in its workers by expanding the state Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Assistance programs. Other alternatives include raising wages to more accurately reflect workers’ productivity and higher living costs, or adequately funding mental health care.

 

[1] Center on Law and Social Policy, “Drug Testing SNAP Applicants is Ineffective and Perpetuates Stereotypes.” July 2017. https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2017/08/Drug-testing-SNAP-Applicants-is-Ineffective-Perpetuates-Stereotypes.pdf

[2] Center on Law and Social Policy, “Drug Testing and Public Assistance.” February 2019. https://www.clasp.org/publications/fact-sheet/drug-testing-and-public-assistance

[3] Ibid.

[4] Amanda Michelle Gomez and Josh Israel, “States waste hundreds of thousands on drug testing for welfare, but have little to show for it.” May 2018. Think Progress. https://thinkprogress.org/states-waste-hundreds-of-thousands-on-drug-testing-for-welfare-3d17c154cbe8/

[5] O. Kay Henderson, Iowa Senate bill to require drug tests, work for welfare.” February 2018. Radio Iowa. https://www.radioiowa.com/2018/02/15/iowa-senate-bill-to-require-drug-tests-work-for-welfare/

[6] American Community Survey, “Health Insurance Coverage Status and Type of Coverage by State and Age for All People: 2017. September 2018. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/health-insurance/acs-hi.html

[7] Center on Law and Social Policy, “Drug Testing and Public Assistance.”

[8] Peter Fisher and Natalie Veldhouse, “The Cost of Living in Iowa 2018 Edition Part 2: Many Iowa Households Struggle to Meet Basic Needs.” July 2018. Iowa Policy Project. http://iowapolicyproject.org/2018Research/180702-COL-Part2.html

[9] Rachel Garfield, Robin Rudowitz, & Anthony Damico, “Understanding the Intersection of Medicaid and Work.” January 2018. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/understanding-the-intersection-of-medicaid-and-work/

 

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

Boost work: Keep Medicaid accessible

Complicating Iowans’ ability to get checkups and the medications they need will not improve workforce participation.

Iowa’s Medicaid program carries two major purposes. First, Medicaid provides medical care for the elderly; in fact, 44 percent of Medicaid spending goes for long-term services and supports for seniors.[1] About half of Iowa nursing home residents benefit from Medicaid.[2]

Second, Medicaid covers thousands of Iowans working in low-wage jobs with no health insurance benefits and to thousands of others who have a disability that prevents them from working. Nearly half of all Medicaid recipients in Iowa are children.[3]

The data show that Medicaid is an important work support. Most non-elderly adult Medicaid enrollees in Iowa work — 72 percent — and 87 percent live in a working family.[4]

Among Medicaid enrollees in Iowa, larger shares of African-American and Latino enrollees are working than whites. One-third of Iowa working Medicaid enrollees work in smaller companies, which likely do not provide employer-sponsored insurance. It might surprise Iowans to know the largest group of Iowa workers receiving Medicaid work in elementary and secondary schools.[5]

Imposing new requirements for Medicaid would complicate health-care access for low-wage workers, children, veterans, older Iowans and Iowans with disabilities. It would not improve workforce participation.

Contrary to some political claims, studies in case after case show the main impact of extra Medicaid requirements is not better jobs,[6] but disenrollment in Medicaid, worse health outcomes, less access to care, and financial insecurity.[7] Rather than promoting good health that is important for employment and productivity, added Medicaid eligibility requirements undermine the goal of encouraging work.

If policy makers’ goal is to increase workforce participation, more practical approaches exist in expanding the state Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Assistance eligibility.

Not only do new Medicaid requirements fail to encourage work, but they make sustaining coverage difficult for people who are exempt from work, such as Iowans with disabilities, who may face obstacles in documentation and verification. Workers with variable hours, particularly in food service, retail, and seasonal jobs, could face similar issues.

Many working Medicaid enrollees work full time, but their low annual wages still quality them for Medicaid.[8] Rural communities rely heavily on Medicaid; disenrollment could harm rural hospitals and restrict access to care for children, the elderly, and veterans.[9]

It makes no sense to restrict access to health care for Iowans who are working or are exempt due to age or disability status.

 

[1] Steve Eiken, Kate Sredl, Brian Burwell & Angie Amos, “Medicaid Expenditures for Long-Term Services and Supports in FY 2016.” Table 31. Iowa LTSS Percentage Trends. https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/ltss/downloads/reports-and-evaluations/ltssexpenditures2016.pdf

[2] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Medicaid’s Role in Nursing Home Care.” Table 1: Medicaid’s Role in Nursing Home Care, by State.  June 2017. https://www.kff.org/infographic/medicaids-role-in-nursing-home-care/

[3] American Community Survey, “Health Insurance Coverage Status and type of Coverage by State and Age for All People: 2017.” Table H105. September 2018. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/cps-hi.html

[4] Rachel Garfield, Robin Rudowitz, & Anthony Damico, “Understanding the Intersection of Medicaid and Work.” January 2018. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/understanding-the-intersection-of-medicaid-and-work/

[5] Ibid.

[6] LaDonna Pavetti, “Work Requirements Don’t Cut Poverty, Evidence Shows.” June 2016. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/work-requirements-dont-cut-poverty-evidence-shows

[7] Hannah Katch, “Medicaid Work Requirements Will Harm Families, Including Workers.” February 2018. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/research/health/medicaid-work-requirements-will-harm-families-including-workers

[8] Ibid.

[9] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “How Medicaid Work Requirements Will Harm Rural Residents – And Communities.” August 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/research/health/how-medicaid-work-requirements-will-harm-rural-residents-and-communities

 

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

For starters, issues to watch in 2019

There are many issues to watch in the new Iowa legislative session. Here is a non-exhaustive list, identifying where policy changes could affect opportunity for many thousands of Iowans.

With the 2019 session of the Iowa Legislature officially underway, the Iowa Policy Project is a dependable source for quality information and analysis on Iowa’s most pressing policy challenges. IPP’s Roadmap for Opportunity project will highlight and clarify many of these challenges as they emerge. Among issues to watch:

Public funds for private schools

Vouchers or “education savings grants” stand to take more money away from public schools and add to the $66 million Iowa taxpayers pay every year to support private education. Funding for Iowa’s public schools has failed to keep up with rising costs. Underfunded schools impact student development and workforce potential. Read more in our Roadmap piece, “Strengthening public education, no new subsidies to private schools” and the accompanying backgrounder, “Taxpayer support of private education in Iowa.”

Unemployment compensation

Unemployment insurance is an important program that supports workers experiencing temporary unemployment and acts as a macroeconomic stabilizer during economic downturn.[1] Because states are granted flexibility in shaping the program, there lies potential to undermine it, as other states have recently. More to come on this issue.

Attacks on public pensions

Maintaining a strong public pension system in Iowa ensures that we are able to attract and retain quality state employees who teach our children and protect our communities. It is important that Iowa wards off attempts to restructure the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) in ways that erode retirement security. For more, read our Roadmap piece, “IPERS works to boost retirees, economy.”

Further tax cuts

During the 2018 session, legislators passed a package of tax changes that largely benefit wealthy Iowans, with 2.5 percent of Iowa earners taking nearly half of tax cuts. The current administration has signaled support for further cuts that would endanger services that promote thriving communities such as education and healthcare. Read more on “What real Iowa tax reform would look like.”

Protecting Iowans’ health

Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system continues to cut off patient care and miss payments to providers. With little hope of returning the program to state control anytime soon, we must ensure that cost savings are achieved by increasing innovation and efficiency, not by undercutting health care providers or denying services to the sick and disabled. We should also stay away from Medicaid work requirements, which lead to disenrollment and additional barriers for elderly and disabled Iowans without meaningfully improving employment.[2] For more, read out Roadmap piece, “Restoring success of Iowa Medicaid.”

As noted above, this is not an exhaustive list — only a start. Stay up to date on our analysis through Facebook, Twitter, and our email newsletter.

[1] Chad Stone and William Chen, “Introduction to Unemployment Insurance.” July 2014. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/12-19-02ui.pdf

[2] Center for Law and Social Policy, “Medicaid Works: No Work Requirement Necessary.” December 2018. https://www.clasp.org/publications/report/brief/medicaid-works-no-work-requirement-necessary

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

Revenue forecast: A confirmation of failure

Iowans need a handle on what the budget surplus means, and what it doesn’t.

With new revenue information in hand, it is apparent that:

•   Large cuts to higher education were unnecessary
•   Continuing to short-change K-12 schools was needless
•   Concerns about large tax cuts were warranted.

During the 2018 session we saw legislators craft mid-year cuts and an FY2019 austerity budget behind closed doors. The effect will be the same as it has been for several years now: Iowa lawmakers won’t have much to work with when the 2019 legislative session convenes in January due to large tax cuts, leaving tight purse strings for education.

The October 2018 Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) projections show a $127 million surplus — up $95.6 million from what was expected for fiscal year 2018, which ended in June.[1] Many in the state are searching for factors they think contributed to the surplus. In reality, the discrepancy in expected and actual revenue is related to errors in forecasting. The REC used a slower rate of growth in calculating these projections after overestimating revenues for the past two fiscal years.

A significant factor contributing to the surplus is a state revenue boost caused by new federal tax cuts, especially for higher-income families. Iowa has a special state break for federal taxes paid. But because fewer federal taxes are being withheld, additional income is subjected to state tax.

Proponents of the state tax cuts seek to attribute the budget surplus to the cuts themselves. First, it is impossible to credit the budget surplus to the 2018 state tax cuts, most of which will not take full effect until 2019 and beyond.

Second, even the REC estimates do not predict continued growth at the FY18 levels. Iowa will have already given away the FY18 surplus before the beginning of the next legislative session, because tax cuts mean less revenue. The FY20 budget will be tight. This will steer the legislative discourse to hold down K-12 spending, to push higher-ed costs toward tuition and student debt, and to threaten needed services and institutions — as the administration is doing right now to the University of Iowa Labor Center.

Sustainable budgeting requires realistic forecasts and working to help all Iowans understand the impacts of budget and tax choices. It also means generating adequate revenue to pay for essential services such as education, health care and environmental quality, and helping to create opportunity for all.

[1] Iowa Department of Management, “Iowa budget closes with higher-than-expected revenue, $127 million surplus.” September 2018.

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