CENTRAL CITY — Iowa already is addressing issues raised in a United Way report that found more than one-third of Iowa households are unable to afford the state’s cost of living, according to Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“Oh, my gosh, we’re doing it,” Reynolds said in response to questions about the new United Way report that found 37 percent of Iowa households cannot meet basic needs, up from 31 percent in 2016, to 457,000 households this year. “We’re working on it every day.”
The Future Ready Iowa program the Legislature approved earlier this year is designed to help Iowans improve their job skills so they can get jobs that pay enough they will be able to support themselves, Reynolds said during a visit to the Linn County Fair in Central City on Wednesday. The goal is for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025.
Reynolds said her administration has recognized barriers that prevent people from getting those jobs and is coordinating public sector programs with the private sector to meet the state’s workforce needs.
“For some people, life got in the way, sometimes it’s drugs, maybe it’s just a challenge of a single mom trying to make ends meet,” Reynolds said after posing for pictures with participants in the fair’s pageants. “We want to be a resource for them.”
Success takes time, but Reynolds said the state’s efforts are showing results. The first quarter report on personal income showed a 5 percent increase in Iowa after a 4.5 percent increase in the fourth quarter of 2017, she said.
“That’s positive” after being stagnant the year before, Reynolds said.
“I would say that things are already moving. We’re seeing fewer people on food stamps and that means we’re helping them find employment and matching them up with opportunities,” the governor added.
Although two-thirds of Iowa’s jobs pay less than $20 an hour, and the state minimum wage hasn’t been increased in a decade, Reynolds isn’t proposing a hike on the $7.25-an-hour rate.
“I’m just not focused on that,” she said, “because I want them to have a career with benefits, where they can take care of themselves. Where I’d rather focus is on helping them get a skill because that’s life-changing.”
One concern for the Republican, who is seeking election to a full four-year term, is what is referred to as the child care cliff.
In that, if recipients’ income increases, they can lose their full child care benefit. In some cases, Reynolds said, people turn down advancement because the pay increase will not make up for losing those benefits.
“It’s just a little bit forward, 10 steps backward,” she said. “It drives me crazy. It is so the wrong thing to do. It keeps single moms down. It keeps families that are trying to advance down. It’s a disincentive.”
She said she and the state Department of Human Services are working with the federal government to get more flexibility so parents don’t lose all their benefits at once.
“We should phase it out, not rip it out from underneath them,” Reynolds said.
She’s encouraged that the federal government also recognizes the problem. “They know it. They’re really focused on that.”
The Linn County Fair continues through Monday. For more information, visit https://thelinncountyfair.com/.
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