Government

Johnson County completes poverty report, recommendations

Stakeholders to work on action items over next year

U.S. dollar. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)
U.S. dollar. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)

Background

Johnson County held a forum on poverty last fall to kick off an effort to better understand and improve issues for residents struggling to meet their basic needs.

The forum, held in mid-October, brought together stakeholders such as elected officials and nonprofit leaders to hear presentations on poverty from the Iowa Policy Project, the Iowa Women’s Foundation, the Child and Family Policy Center and others. After the event, those in attendance formed workshop groups to develop recommendations.

At the time of the forum, the latest United Way ALICE report — which provides information about people in the community who are asset-limited, income-constrained and employed — showed 37 percent of Iowans were living in poverty or struggling to meet their basic needs. In Johnson County, that number was at 38 percent.

What’s happened since

Jim Swaim, project facilitator, met with the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday to deliver a report with final recommendations.

The county held three workshops in November, the first focusing on child care and intergenerational issues, the second on income, employment and education, and the third on housing. Action plans developed at each workshop were combined into one report during a December meeting.

The 25-page report includes a number of potential steps to help decrease poverty in the county, including conducting a child care suitability study, conducting a poverty simulation and considering a local-option sales tax or “a less regressive hotel/motel tax” to pay for poverty programs. For each step, there is a person from the workshop group assigned to help see it through.

“I believe the group is confident that this plan can be implemented in the coming year. They also agreed to participate in a midyear meeting convened to make adjustments to the plan and review new information that might impact its success,” Swaim wrote in the report, adding that meeting would likely come in May.

“We do have many of the action steps that are currently underway, action steps that don’t require any funding at this point,” said Lynette Jacoby, the county’s social services director. Child care resource mapping is one of the efforts already happening, and getting the child care study underway would be one of the next steps, she said.

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The report also provides statistics to show what poverty looks like in Johnson County, especially for residents struggling with housing and child care costs.

Almost 18 percent of Johnson County residents live in poverty, while nearly 17,000 households — 30 percent of all households in the county — pay more than they can afford for housing, according to the report. Additionally, 49 percent of Iowa City residents are ALICE, meaning they’re living in poverty or struggling to meet their basic needs.

• Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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