United Way of Central Iowa released its Legislative Agenda for the 2021 session of the Iowa General Assembly at a virtual event held yesterday for elected officials and members of the community.

The Legislative Update featured presentations on the key statewide issues across United Way’s focus areas of education, health, financial stability, and essential needs.

In the area of education, presenter Peter LeBlanc, Des Moines Public Schools Principal on Special Assignment, shared the following: “Our five-year certified enrollment data shows that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, [Des Moines Public School enrollment] dropped by more than 1,000 kids from last year. As we know, enrollment is a huge part of school funding – which when we think about the work we need to do to provide equitable resources and have everything we need to properly serve the more than 32,000 kids we have coming into our schools every day – this dip is a significant concern.”

As the pandemic has shifted how we work and learn, United Way of Central Iowa looks to support efforts to ensure quality, accessible, and equitable education opportunities for virtual and in-person learning including equitable broadband and digital literacy skills.

In the area of health, with the 2019 passage of House File 690, Iowa put the foundation and structure in place for the first children’s behavioral health system. As we continue to advocate for funding in the 2021 legislative session, we will be focusing on the changes that need to be made to provide equitable, reliable, and quality services statewide, in all 99 counties.

In the area of financial stability, United Way will continue support for the recommendations from its Skills2Compete Coalition, including a focus on quality, affordable, and accessible childcare.

In the area of essential needs, the organization will again seek a direct annual appropriation to support disaster recovery and resource referrals for the statewide 211 information and resource referral service.

Joe Murphy, Iowa Business Council and Chair of United Way’s Public Policy Cabinet shared the following on behalf of the organization: “211 is a free service available in all 99 counties for people who are seeking support or facing a crisis. Between January 1 – November 30, 2020; 211 has handled over 130,000 contacts, and of those over 70,000 are COVID-19 related. In addition to its standard resource referral services, access to mental health professionals is now available and 211 has responded to 1,139 mental-health related contacts since it began providing this service in April 2020. After the derecho, 211 was immediately activated by Polk County Emergency Management to support the community with its expertise. The Iowa Utility Board also partnered with 211 to provide real time information on estimated utility restoration for individuals without access to internet.”

This free service is currently exclusively funded by a six-member statewide coalition, including United Way of Central Iowa, through private philanthropic support.

A focus on equity carries throughout all issues in the 2021 Legislative Agenda. Teree Caldwell Johnson, CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood Services, and Diedre DeJear, owner of Caleo Enterprises, presented on the One Economy Report.

From the report, DeJear shared the median household income for an African American individual in Polk County is $33,816 compared to all of Polk County at $63,530. “If we could just think of what we could do with $30,000 right now in this moment, it's a big deal. … Those families who are only getting half of the median household income in our county are spending more than 30 percent on their housing. If we take that percentage off of that $33,000, we're left with about $22,000 and with the average childcare costs for an individual in the state at about $10,000, that leaves families with children with about $12,000 to meet their essential needs and respond to an emergency. It’s simply not enough.”

Though their presentation focused primarily on financial inclusion, the report shows disparities across all focus areas, which will influence United Way of Central Iowa’s work to help support self-sufficient income and thriving families.

“Each of us has a part to play,” said Elisabeth Buck, president of United Way of Central Iowa. “In order to be successful in garnering support for this agenda, we will need you to engage legislators on the issues and areas for which you are most passionate. Working together, we can create a thriving community.”

United Way of Central Iowa’s Legislative Agenda is set by the organization’s Public Policy Cabinet, comprised of business and community leaders who volunteer to identify and advocate for policy solutions to these priority issues. The goal for this agenda is to implement positive change and improve equitable access to resources and opportunities in each of the focus areas of health, education, financial stability, and essential needs to set the foundation for a higher quality of life in Iowa.

Recent legislative successes from United Way of Central Iowa and its partners include increasing access to quality and affordable child care by expanding income eligibility of the Child Care Assistance program to 0-200 percent of the federal poverty level, including a tiered co-pay schedule; forming the Oral Health Iowa coalition to promote oral health and dental hygiene; supporting Future Ready Iowa’s efforts to provide scholarships for Iowans seeking postsecondary education; and raising awareness of the importance of 211 as an information and resource referral service for its ability to connect Iowans to essential services, especially in times of crisis.

Find the 2021 Legislative Agenda and learn more about United Way’s advocacy efforts at www.unitedwaydm.org/advocate.

Topics: Education, Financial Stability, Essential Needs, 211, Mental Health, covid-19, advocacy, Income, Childcare, Health & Well-Being

Dave Stone

Written by Dave Stone

Dave Stone is the Advocacy Officer for United Way of Central Iowa.