In the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Iowans owe $36 million in unpaid utility bills. Thousands are behind on rent and many are still waiting for delayed unemployment payments. The economic costs of the pandemic has hit service industry workers and other low-income Iowans hard.
But instead of coming to their aid, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature is moving ahead with bills that would make the lives of low-income Iowans more difficult.
One bill, Senate File 252, strikes down ordinances in three Iowa cities that prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants simply because they receive federal housing choice vouchers. Iowa City, Marion and Des Moines ban such discrimination based on lawful sources of income.
A second measure, Senate Study Bill 1125, would subject Iowans receiving public assistance to more burdensome scrutiny. The bill calls on the Department of Human Services to hire a private contractor to verify assets, identity and other requirements.
These unnecessary bills reflect a GOP majority that has learned little or nothing from the plight of Iowans affected by the pandemic. Taking aim at low-income Iowans at this moment is not only misguided policy, it’s cruel, spiteful lawmaking.
In Iowa, 19,813 housing units are occupied by tenants using housing choice vouchers, according to HUD. Those units house nearly 40,000 people, with an average household income of just $12,577 annually. Most of the households include a disabled person, one-third have a female head of household with children and 27 percent of vouchers go to Black Iowans, who make up just 4 percent of Iowa’s population.
So allowing landlords to discriminate against voucher holders means denying housing to disabled Iowans, mothers with children and minorities. This bill smacks of the brand of racism we often hear in all the complaints about “Chicago people” coming to live in Cedar Rapids. Discrimination toward vouchers goes hand-in-hand with racial discrimination.
And it flies in the face of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appeal for more affordable housing in Iowa.
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As for public assistance eligibility, the Iowa Department of Human Services is already on the job. A new federal model for tracking eligibility and sharing data between states will be available this spring. Unlike the GOP bill, it won’t have to be purchased. The state also will test a free one-year trial of Equifax’s income verification system.
So lawmakers once again are searching for a problem that doesn’t exist.
There are plenty of real problems that do exist for people trying to make ends meet, keep a roof over their heads and avoid a deadly virus. Lawmakers should drop these bills and actually do something to help, not hinder, struggling Iowans.
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