By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
Representatives of EMBARC, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Visiting Nurse Services, Catholic Charities and the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) were at the State Capitol last week advocating for an expansion of the RefugeeRISE program. This program provides job readiness skills to refugees who’ve lived in Iowa 10 or fewer years. There’s still a serious need for trained workers in both rural and urban areas of our state.
RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps, launched in late 2015 through the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, is administered by EMBARC. Currently, 17 AmeriCorps members serve in seven teams in Des Moines, Marshalltown and Waterloo.
Senate File 2153 would offer $350,000 from the state to match $650,000 in federal funds to expand the RefugeeRise program. The bill was scheduled for a subcommittee hearing after press deadline. The ICC will let you know how it goes.
In other legislative news:
• Along with Interfaith Power and Light, the ICC is advocating for a bill, SF 2182, that would provide matching funds for nonprofit corporations to complete energy efficiency projects. The grants would be made through the Iowa Energy Center. Many nonprofit agencies are in older facilities and a grant program would assist their energy efficiency efforts.
• The Senate unanimously passed SF 2288, which would provide for additional confidentiality for juvenile court records. The bill goes to the House. This would help enable juvenile offenders, when they’re older, to more easily get a job without being stigmatized as a criminal. It would still allow for the public to know about violent criminals in their community.
• The Iowa Senate also unanimously voted for SF 2191 to establish an office in the Department of Public Safety to combat human trafficking.
• The ICC supports a bill, HF 2386, to enable the termination of parental rights when the court finds “clear and convincing evidence” that the child was conceived as a result of sexual abuse. The abuser’s parental rights could be terminated as a result of their perpetrating the sexual abuse.
The ICC also supports SF 2238, which would require mandatory reporters of child abuse (such as social workers, teachers, etc.) to report all abuse of all children. Currently it is not required to report abuse of children aged 12 to 17 committed by non-caretakers. One reason given for this exception is the possibility that some young people will not seek assistance following a sexual assault if they believe the abuse will not be kept confidential. The ICC believes the current exception could have the effect of protecting abusers.
• The federal government gave approval to the State of Iowa to proceed with its Medicaid “privatization” or “modernization” efforts. A bill providing for additional legislative oversight of Medicaid, Senate File 2213, is moving through the process. The Catholic bishops have consistently held that health care is a natural human right and low-income people should get the care they need.
• Even though the “doctor-prescribed suicide” bills are dead for the session, a subcommittee hearing for the Senate bill, SF 2051, was to be held at the Capitol today, March 3. Proponents want to keep the issue in the news.
• An Iowa statewide poll has found majority support of driver’s licenses for all immigrants, regardless of immigration status. The ICC has been working in support of this issue with other groups for several years with little success. The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling for the ACLU, found that 58 percent of all Iowa caucus-goers support driver’s licenses for immigrants, regardless of immigration status. House File 2318, introduced by Rep. John Kooiker (R-Boyden), would have provided for such licenses to be issued to immigrants regardless of authorization status. However, the bill was introduced at the legislative deadline.
Finally, millions of working poor families find it increasingly difficult to meet their daily needs and achieve financial security. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) are two important social provisions that help struggling families escape poverty. Claiming these tax credits can aid in securing better housing, pursuing quality education, obtaining dependable transportation, covering out-of-pocket health care costs, or paying for quality childcare. If you are a low-income person and work, you may qualify. Go to www.eitcoutreach.org for more information.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)