Category Archives: View Point

View Point – 2015 Legislative Session Should Help Iowa’s Middle Class

By State Senator Steven Sodders

2015 Legislative Session Should Help Iowa’s Middle Class

The 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature began on Monday, January 12. State Senator Steve Sodders of State Center says his top priority is helping improve the incomes of working and middle class families by focusing on education and job training.
“The recovery from the Great Recession is uneven,” Sodders said. “Wall Street is celebrating while Iowa’s middle class is struggling due to stagnating wages, slow job growth and the gap between the skills workers have and the skills employers need. For Iowa communities and businesses to fully recover, we need Iowa’s middle class to grow and expand.”
Sodders pointed out a number of measures that would make Iowa families more financially secure: expanding workforce training programs at community colleges, fighting wage theft to make sure workers are paid for their work, continuing the tuition freeze at Iowa’s state universities, and giving Iowa companies the first crack at state contracts.
“The current makeup of Iowa’s state government means ideas need support from both Republicans and Democrats to become law,” Sodders said. “That’s why I’ll focus on proposals with broad public support. I think we can all agree we need more good jobs, great schools, affordable child care, health care, and housing, and to be able to retire with dignity.”
Sodders said one area of disagreement during the 2015 session could be state support for local students. “During the last several years, Republicans have broken state law and used local school funding as a bargaining chip. This has hurt our local schools. It is an outrage that Iowa has fallen to 37th in the nation in per student funding,” Sodders said. “Great local schools help our communities attract new businesses and new residents. When it comes to support for our local schools, we need to return to the pro-education approach that built our state.”
Senator Sodders is the Senate President Pro Tempore and also serves as Chair of the Judiciary Committee and the Vice Chair of the Economic Growth Committee. In addition, he is a member of the Agriculture, Commerce, Labor and Business Relations, Rules, and Veterans Committees.
Senator Sodders represents Senate District 36. It includes Marshall County, Tama County and part of Black Hawk County.
“I count on the people from the district to help me do my job by sharing their thoughts and concerns with me. You can contact me directly at (641) 751-4140, or my official email address: Steve.Sodders@legis.iowa.gov and to receive my weekly email newsletter, sign up at www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/Sodders.”

View Point – How About a Holiday Gift to Your Community?

By Gerald F. Schnepf        Executive Director, Keep Iowa Beautiful

How About a Present for Your Community?

Several studies indicate that the average spending per person for Holiday Season gifts ranges from $100 to $1000. All of that tends to go to other individuals. That is our heritage! How about a slight change by adding another recipient of the generosity of the holidays – your hometown community! This is a new one on the giving list. The addition or change requires us to think a little differently and ask ourselves how that gift could help the community.
That gift can range from a simple act of volunteering for a community project or service club project benefitting the community to providing a financial contribution to an ongoing community project. It could also take the form of maintaining/watering flowering plants and/or hanging flower baskets
Volunteering can include adopting a park or natural area, maybe a street or a parking lot to help keep it clean and possibly some landscaping. It could also be helping in the city hall or with community improvement projects. In addition it can be agreeing to serve of committees that aid the city in their efforts – parks board, planning and zoning, long range planning, ordinances review, etc.
That financial gift can go either directly to the city or to a service club that is sponsoring the project. Maybe you can encourage others to join with you in the idea so that the gift becomes fairly significant.
The financial type of projects can range from helping to buy:

waste/recycling receptacle(s),
outdoor lighting feature,
lighting for the city Christmas Tree or maybe the tree itself,
webpage development or updating,
promotional material on the community,
trees, flowers, shrubs for public areas,
flower planters,
new/replacement signs,
support for home improvements and
many others that you explore with your home community

Whatever the case, make sure that the city is receptive to the idea, the volunteer effort and/or the gift. Don’t give them something they don’t need or want and don’t force your volunteerism (even if well intended) on to the city if they don’t need or can’t handle it.
In fact, one idea my wife suggested is that the city sponsor a holiday tree. Decorations on the tree can include envelopes with notes in them identifying projects that can be done in and for the community. Maybe there can be an event in which individuals, organizations or businesses could bid on the opportunity to pick an envelope for their project.
Another way to give a gift to your community is to make a gift to your county wide or local community foundation. That gift is special as it keeps on giving as a percent (normally 5%) is donated back to community projects each year in perpetuity.
Your gift of time, talent or treasure can make a difference, encourage others and give you a great sense of satisfaction.
Remember, if you can’t make a gift or if you forget, take the opportunity to make a New Year’s resolution that will benefit your community. Resolve that you will get involved and help your community in some way that makes the community a better place and builds a sense of pride.
Happy Holidays from Keep Iowa Beautiful!

View Point – Lu Nelsen

New Program for an Old Problem

By Lu Nelsen, Center for Rural Affairs

For many rural folks, colder weather means higher energy costs. It’s the time of year when energy efficiency and conservation can make the biggest difference. As you search for ways to save money while keeping the house warm, consider taking a long look at your local utility.
That’s because Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the first loans under a new Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program. These loans can be used by rural electric cooperatives across the country to invest in techniques and technologies that can reduce energy use.
The best part? Interest rates for these loans are some of the lowest available. By financing energy efficiency and conservation at such affordable rates, this program creates new economic opportunities. That can mean a lot to small businesses and rural communities alike.
The first to take advantage are the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and Roanoke Electric Membership Corporation. North Arkansas Electric Coop will use this funding to expand their energy efficiency program, providing funds for energy efficient lighting, insulation, a geothermal installation, weatherization, and other energy saving measures. Roanoke Electric Membership Corporation will now finance appliance, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system replacements for residential consumers.
This program is a big deal. One of the most common problems folks run into when considering an energy efficiency or renewable energy project is a lack of affordable funding. This makes financing available to help people in rural areas invest in projects that keep the house warm while putting money back into their community.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

View Point: Improvements Made to USDA Beginning Farmer Loans

USDA recently announced several changes to Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan programs, changes designed to help more beginning farmers and ranchers. The new “interim final rule” will increase the Microloan limit from $35,000 to $50,000. This program provides a simplified application process and a seven year payback.

Microloans can be used for approved operating expenses, such as seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing, distribution, living expenses, livestock, equipment, hoop houses, tools, irrigation and delivery vehicles.
USDA is also changing the “experience” requirement for FSA Direct Farm Ownership loans. Previously, applicants had to prove they participated in the operations of a farm for at least three years. Beginning farmers across the country identified this restriction as a real barrier. It is not reflective of current realities in which new farmers enter agriculture.
The change will allow beginning farmers and ranchers to substitute one year of that three-year requirement with a formal farming apprenticeship, operation or management of a non-farm business, leadership or management experience while serving in any branch of the military, advanced education in an agricultural field, and significant experience in a farm-related agricultural career.
USDA also proposes changing the types of farming entities eligible to apply, potentially opening the door to non-majority investors who are not actively farming or managing the operation. We’ll watch these changes closely. The deadline to submit public comments on these changes to the USDA is December 8, 2014. Contact Traci Bruckner, tracib@cfra.org, for more information.

View Point – Lu Nelsen

Rural in the Digital Age

By Lu Nelsen, lucasn@cfra.org, Center for Rural Affairs

The internet is such a powerful tool in modern life, it’s hard for a lot of people to imagine going through their daily routine without using it in some capacity. But for some people in rural communities, accessing the internet isn’t as easy as just connecting to the wifi network.
I recently had the chance to fly to Washington, DC along with other rural advocates to talk about net neutrality and broadband access in rural areas. We shared stories that we heard from rural folks across the country with representatives and regulators, and discussed how we could improve service to rural communities.
Most of us already deal with less than desirable service, and the possibility of losing an open and neutral internet would present even more challenges to rural communities. Without net neutrality, internet service providers could make broadband service faster for those that can pay a premium, while others could be pushed into a ‘slow lane’. Right now, it’s up to regulators and legislators to insure that we all have the same access to internet.
It’s important that our representatives keep hearing stories from people who live in rural areas and want better access to broadband internet. Rural small business owners, healthcare workers, schools, farmers, ranchers and other rural residents benefit from internet service that is fast and reliable. We need net neutrality to keep rural America out of the slow lane, and better broadband access to open the road to new opportunities for rural people across the country.