2014 INFONET #12

Issue 12, 12/23/2014

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Senator Harkin Retires, Challenges Congress to Do More

After nearly four decades in Congress, Tom Harkin said goodbye to his colleagues in Washington DC earlier this month.  Senator Harkin decided earlier this year not to run for re-election, a move that shocked and saddened many Iowans. 

Sen. Harkin is well-known throughout the world as a champion for the rights of people with disabilities and as the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was enacted in 1990 and required buildings and public transportation to be accessible, and called for accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace. As the head of the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Sen. Harkin advocated for full federal funding for the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act), which pays for educating students in special education. 

During his retirement speech, Sen. Tom Harkin challenged his fellow Senators to take action on four important issues (what the Des Moines Register called his "four final wishes"):

  1. Close the growing inequality gap between the rich and the poor. Senator Harkin said this is hurting people and it will destroy our representative form of government because the people on the bottom don't think they can make a difference.   Fairer tax laws, higher minimum wages, more job training, strengthening social security, building on the Affordable Care Act, ensuring free early education for all children, and rebuilding our country's infrastructure were all cited as challenges the US Congress should take on.

  2. Prevent the destruction of planet Earth. Senator Harkin expressed urgency in the need to reverse or slow climate change, and suggested that it is time to look at energy alternatives that do not rely on fossil fuels and energy from non-renewable sources. "The warning signs are flashing in neon bright red. Stop what you're doing with fossil fuels. We must switch massively and quickly to renewable energy," Harkin said.

  3. Reverse the underemployment of people with disabilities.  Senator Harkin said that two out of every three  American workers who are both able to work and want to work can't find a job. He underscored the importance of employment to people with disabilities, and said they often become a business's hardest working and most reliable employees. He pointed to the Walgreens pharmacy chain, which wants people with disabilities to make up 10% of its workforce.   "I dwell on this," he said, "perhaps because I feel I haven't done enough on this issue."

  4. Pass the United Nations treaty for people with disabilities.  Senator Harkin said his biggest regret is that Congress has yet to approve this treaty, which bans discrimination against people with disabilities throughout the world. Harkin said it's modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, it has been approved by 150 nations, and it is supported by every living former US President and every Republican U.S. Senate leader, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, various veterans groups and of course groups representing people with disabilities (learn more here).

During floor debate in 1990, Senator Harkin once gave an entire speech in American Sign Language, a language he knew well from growing up with his brother Frank (who had a hearing impairment).  So fittingly, Senator Harkin closed his retirement speech with "one of the most beautiful signs."

"Put your fingers together and put your hands together," Harkin said, holding his hands up in front of his face for everyone to see. "It looks like an 'A.' Move it in a circle in front of your body. This is the sign for America...Think about it.  All of us interconnected, bound together in a single circle of inclusion. No one left out. This is the ideal America toward which we always, always aspire. And with that, for the last time, I yield the floor."


  • You can read Senator Tom Harkin's retirement speech here.
  • You can watch Senator Tom Harkin's retirement speech here.

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2015 Legislative Committee Memberships Finalized

Iowans that are elected to the Iowa Legislature often have a reason - they want to do something, help someone, or make a difference in our state.  They may want to serve on a committee that will help them do that, and some want to serve on committees where they have some expertise (like a teacher serving on the Education Committee or a parent of a child with a disability serving on the Human Resources Committee). But legislators can only "request" that they serve on a particular committee; their leaders actually have the final say on these assignments.  Those assigments are always made at the start of a General Assembly (what we call the two-year legislative cycle).

The committee assignments for the 2015-2016 General Assembly are now done, and you can now see which legislators are assigned to each legislative committee, including chairs, vice chairs, and ranking members.  Click below for the membership lists:

There are a few "open" seats on committees, which will be filled by the winners of the special elections.

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Tough Budget Year Ahead

Governor Branstad told reporters recently that the state is going to face a “challenging” budget cycle when the session gets underway on January 12.  “We want to be very careful and very frugal and yet be able to provide the resources needed to meet the priorities,” Governor Branstad said at the start of hearings on state agency budget requests. Agencies are requesting a total $7.05 billion for the next budget year, a 3.8% increase.

That may not sound like a large increase, but legislators have made some big promises over the past several years and the state isn't collecting enough money to live up to all those commitments.   The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency says the state will need to spend all the extra revenues it has to pay for:

  • Property tax cuts made last session ($142 million)
  • Education reforms ($125 million, which doesn't include regular "allowed growth" for schools)
  • Medicaid, including covering the loss of federal Medicaid funds due to a federal match rate change ($202 million)
  • Medicaid shortfall for this year ($60 million)
  • Increased costs to provide health insurance to state employees in calendar year 2015 ($40 million)
  • State employee salary increases ($16 million)

The Legislative Services Agency says the $520 million the state currently has in reserves will shrink to $176 million next year, leaving little room for any additional spending and creating concern about maintaining funding for the commitments already made.   All of this means finding extra money for Medicaid (or anything else) may be very, very hard, and difficult decisions may need to be made (see the next article). 

In addition, there are rumors that many of the state's 15 Mental Health and Disability Services (MH/DS) regions have a lot of money in reserves.  Key legislators on human services issues have already been questioning regions' needs for additional funding (it is not the first time legislators would withhold state funding and require counties/regions to "spend down their reserves"). Expect legislators to challenge funding this year for these regions that provide non-Medicaid MH/DS services.

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Challenging Year for Medicaid

There is trouble brewing in the state's $1.3 billion Medicaid budget, and legislators are already talking openly about tough decisions that may need to be made when they head back to the Capitol in January.  Medicaid provides health insurance for 680,000 low-income adults and children.  It also pays for long-term care services for Iowa's seniors, from nursing home care to services that support seniors in their homes. And as many of you know, it also pays for a variety of health and supportive services, including supports that allow people to live in their own homes. 

The Department of Human Services says they need an additional $68 million to get through this current fiscal year (which ends on June 30, 2015).  Without those dollars, waiting lists will continue to grow and the state may have to make difficult decisions when reviewing the needs of people receiving Medicaid services.  In addition, the Department of Human Services says they will need another $202 million to get through next year (and that doesn't include money needed to eliminate waiting lists).

Right now, there are large waiting lists for several of the state's Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers which provide support for people with disabilities wanting to live independently or with their families.  That list continues to grow because state funding for these waivers has rarely kept up with demand, even after a significant ($6 million) additional appropriation in the 2014 legislative session.  This will continue to be a challenge when you look at the overall budget crunch the state is facing in 2015.

Lawmakers will be looking for ways to do more with less money, and will be asking hard questions so they can find out which programs work, and which programs aren't meeting their goals.  One strategy that we hear more and more is moving more of Medicaid into managed care. While this rumor has been out there for a while, it is a fact that states are increasingly moving to the use of managed care and other integrated care models in serving their Medicaid beneficiaries. According to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, more than 70% of the US Medicaid population is enrolled in some form of managed care. 

  • You can read more about Iowa's Medicaid managed care profile (from CMS) here. 
  • You can review the Department of Human Services and Iowa Medicaid Enterprise budget requests here.

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Special Election Update

There will be three special elections before legislators return to work at the Capitol on January 12, 2015.

    State Senator Joni Ernst resigned from her state senate seat after being elected to the US Senate last month.   This special election will be held on Tuesday, Decmeber 30, 2014.  Senate District 12 includes all of Fremont, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Ringgold, and Taylor Counties. Click here for a map.

    State Representative Mark Costello is running as the Republican; economic development professional Steve Adams is running as the Democrat.  You can find contact information for these candidates here.  While it is impossible to predict who will win with 100% accuracy, we can say that it is unlikely that a Democrat could win in this district that has 11,000 more Republican voters than Democratic voters (18,192 Republicans vs. 7,168 Democrats).

    If you live in this district and are not registered to vote, you will have to follow instructions to register at the polls on December 30.  The deadline to request an absentee ballot is December 26, 2014 (although you might want to do it now as the mail is slower during the holidays and your ballot needs to be received by December 30 to guarantee it will be counted).  Click here for more information, poll locations, and deadlines.
    Rep. Dwayne Alons of Hull died on Saturday, November 29 after a short battle with renal cancer. He was diagnosed in early October and won his re-election campaign in November. This special election will be held on Tuesday, January 6, 2015.  House District 4 is in Sioux County, and includes the towns of Sioux Center, Orange City, Rock Valley, Hull, Hawarden, Alton, Maurice, Granville, Ireton and Chatsworth. Click here for a map.

    John Kooiker, a Sioux County farmer and former US Postal Service worker, will be the Republican candidate.  The Democratic candidate is John Buntsma, the former newspaper manager and editor of the LeMars Daily, Sioux County Capitol-Democrat, and Dayton Review.   Again, this seat is unlikely to switch to Democrat. It is the most Republican House district in the state (13,279 Republicans vs. 1,498 Democrats).  You can find contact information for these candidates here.

    If you live in this district and are not registered to vote, you have until December 26 to pre-register or you will have to follow instructions to register at the polls on January 6, 2015.  The deadline to request an absentee ballot is January 2, 2015 (although you might want to do it now as the mail is slower during the holidays and your ballot needs to be received by January 6 to guarantee it will be counted).  Click here for more information, poll locations, and deadlines.
    If Representative Mark Costello wins the special election for Senate as expected (see above), he will need to resign from the House of Representatives.  That will trigger a third special election.  This special election won't be scheduled until the results of the Senate special election are official, but it will likely be in mid-January.  If you live in this district, watch for updates at www.infonetiowa.org.

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2015 Legislative Guide Delayed

Two years ago, we printed our first ID Action/Infonet Guide to the Iowa Legislature, and it was so popular we ran out of copies within a few weeks. 

This year we plan to print and mail it again to all of our readers free of charge, including those of you that receive infoNET by email. While we now have committee assignments and other information, we must delay printing until the three special elections have been held (sometime in mid-January).  While we hoped to have these in your hands before the start of session, we will still be able to get these to you by the end of January.  In the meantime, you can access a draft version of the Guide online here.

If you have friends or colleagues that would like to receive a copy of our Guide, they must register with ID Action here - so feel free to forward to a friend and they too can get a free copy of this popular Guide!

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Youth Leadership Forum Applications Due January 15

The Youth Leadership Forum is a five day transition program for high school students with disabilities. Throughout the week, students will have the opportunity to learn about developing self-esteem, choosing a career, assistive technology, disability rights and self-advocacy. Students can be in 10th, 11th or 12th grade (this includes fifth year seniors). Students must be working with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor or be on the waiting list in order to participate.

The next YLF session will be July 12-17, 2015 on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Iowa. Students stay overnight in the dorms and participate in large group and small group activities, listen to speakers, take a trip to the State Capitol and connect with professionals and community leaders with disabilities as possible mentors and role models.
Approximately 40 students will be chosen to participate in this unique opportunity. There is no charge for those selected to attend. Applications are currently being accepted through January 15, 2015 and can be found online at http://www.humanrights.iowa.gov/pd/leadership_forum/index.html


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