October 18, 2017

    Trump Adds Uncertainty to Health Care; More Iowans to Lose Access
    Iowa Continues to be a Leader in STEM Education
    Identity Theft Consumer Tips
    Tuition Increases at State Universities on Hold
    State Recreational Trails Receive Grants
    Time for Students and Parents to Apply for Student Financial Aid
    Fall Urban Trout Stocking Schedule

    Trump Adds Uncertainty to Health Care; More Iowans to Lose Access

    The Trump Administration announced this week that it would discontinue $29 million in federal funds used to help thousands of Iowa families purchase health insurance. The move means 72,000 Iowans who get health care on the individual marketplace will see premiums rise by 57% next year.

    According to news reports, President Trump personally asked federal health care officials to reject an alternative stop-gap plan offered by Governor Kim Reynolds, a plan that would also significantly increase premiums on the individual market. If the stop-gap plan is approved, some seniors could see premium increases up to 300% next year while initial out-of-pocket costs for Iowans would also increase.

    The plan was crafted by the Governor in hopes of encouraging two insurance companies to return to the marketplace after withdrawing last spring. A final decision is expected from the federal government sometime in late October.

    Despite the uncertainty, open enrollment on Iowa’s Marketplace begins on November 1 and ends December 15.

    Birth Control Coverage Mandate Reversed by Trump

    In other health care news, President Trump reversed a federal mandate that required most employers to provide birth control without co-payments. The coverage was part of preventative care services all insurers were required to provide and eliminated the out-of-pocket costs for contraception that impacted 55 million women nationwide.

    As a result, employers can deny birth control coverage for their employees on the basis of their religious beliefs or moral convictions. If an employer decides to no longer cover birth control, a 60 day notice must be given to their employees.

    Iowa Continues to be a Leader in STEM Education

    The latest results of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) report is out, and it shows that the growth in STEM jobs across Iowa is outpacing other occupations and there are more than 12,000 vacancies. In addition, substantial growth has occurred with 300 professionals working in the STEM network in 2001 compared to over 700 in 2017.

    Nearly 1,700 educators took part in one of eleven STEM programs around Iowa in 2016–2017, with over 74,000 preK-12 students participating. The results showed that students who participated in the STEM Scale-Up scored an average of three points higher in National Percentile Rank on the Iowa Assessments in mathematics and reading, and four points higher in science compared to all students statewide.

    For minority students, the difference is even greater. Scale-Up participants scored an average of six points higher in National Percentile Rank in math, seven points higher in science and six points higher in reading compared to minority students who did not participate.

    On average in 2016, individuals in STEM occupations earned $7 more per hour and $15,500 more in annual salaries compared to all other occupational groups. The report also showed the results of a 2016 Iowa poll, where 93% of participants said STEM education should be a priority in their local school district, but only 50% said STEM education is actually a priority and another 20% said they did not know.

    To view the entire report, visit: https://iowastem.gov/sites/default/files/evaluation/2016-2017-Iowa-STEM-Evaluation-Report.pdf.

    Identity Theft Consumer Tips

    With the recent Equifax data breach, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office recommends the following tips for consumers to protect against identity theft.

    • Request and review your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). You can obtain each one for free once a year through a single website: www.annualcreditreport.com. You can choose to obtain all three at once, or you can stagger and rotate them throughout the year (one report from a different agency every four months).

    • Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze locks out businesses from checking your credit report prior to opening a new account in your name. You can allow a credit check to proceed by providing a Personal Identification Number, and can stop the freeze at any time. You must contact all three credit reporting agencies separately for a credit freeze (one for each agency). The fee is $10 per agency for consumers who are not identity theft victims, which is a fee allowed by state law. Equifax announced it will waive security freeze fees for 30 days.

    • Consider an initial fraud alert. If you suspect or confirm that someone stole your identity, an initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. An initial fraud alert requires a business to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. You only need to contact one credit reporting agency about an initial fraud alert, and that agency will notify the other two.

    • Monitor your accounts. Review your statements and report any activity that is suspicious.

    • Be wary of breach-related scams. Do not provide or “confirm” personal information to a caller who claims the call is related to the data breach, even if caller-ID information appears legitimate. Be wary of emails, which can be fake but look authentic, and be especially wary of clicking on links, opening attachments, or entering information on website addresses provided through emails or pop-up ads.

    Consumers with questions or complaints can contact the Consumer Protection Division on their website at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov, email them at consumer@iowa.gov, or call 515-281-5926 or toll-free at 888-777-4590 (outside the Des Moines metro area only).

    For more information about identity theft, go to www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov. To report and recover from identity theft, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s site at www.identitytheft.gov.

    Tuition Increases at State Universities on Hold

    After Republican lawmakers cut over $24 million last session, students at Iowa’s three state universities were forced to pay two tuition increases in the same year to make up the difference. In response, the Iowa Board of Regents, which governs the three state universities, formed a task force to look at tuition and state funding.

    The task force came back with the recommendation of increasing tuition up to 7% for each of the next five years if the Legislature does not increase state funding. Last month, the Regents requested a modest $12 million increase (all in student financial aid) for the next fiscal year. If that is approved by the Legislature next session, there would be only a modest increase in tuition.

    Given the state budget cuts last session, the Board decided to delay setting tuition until more information becomes available.

    State Recreational Trails Receive Grants

    The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) Commission has approved funding for five separate state recreational trails programs throughout the state. The Commission approved a total of approximately $1.3 million for the five projects.

    The state recreational trail program was developed in 1988 with the purpose of creating and maintaining recreational trails for both motorized and non-motorized users. The Iowa trail system consists of approximately 1,500 miles including multi-use trails and off road paths. A local match of 25% is required via DOT rules.

    The state recreational trails system is used through an application based process. After reviewing applications, the Department makes recommendations to the Transportation Commission who has the authority to award funds. The legislature appropriated $1 million for the state recreational trails program this year, the lowest amount in 6 years.

    The following applications received funding:

      Heritage Trail Bridge Replacement (Dubuque) $113,185
      Louisa County Trailhead Connection to Hoover Nature Trail $250,000
      Pottawattamie County Trail-Railroad High Trail Phase 2 $400,082
      Raccoon River Valley Trail to High Trestle Trail Phase 1 $366,000
      Wapsipinicon Trail Phase 1 (Jones County and Anamosa) $139,000

    Time for Students and Parents to Apply for Student Financial Aid

    School may have just started, but it is time for high school seniors thinking of going to college and current college students to apply for financial aid for next school year.

    After federal changes last year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) started accepting tax returns that are a year old, and people can file starting October 1st. Prior to that, families had to wait until the spring before the student was to attend college, because they had to have tax returns from the previous year.

    The FAFSA is required to qualify for federal Pell grants, federal student loans, federal work-study programs and most forms of state financial aid. Some colleges also give priority to students whose forms reach them in November or December. About two-thirds of Iowa’s high school seniors file the form each year, with low-income students among the least likely to file.

    According to the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) 2017 report on college debt, Iowa ranks 8th nationally in the proportion of students graduating with debt (65%). So it is even more critical for Iowans to file for financial aid.

    To assist students and parents in the process, the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has penned many informative blogs: “12 Common FAFSA Mistakes,” “8 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA Form,” “The Parents Guide to Filling Out the FAFSA Form,” “5 Things to Do After Filing Your FAFSA Form,” and “How to Fill Out the FAFSA When You Have More Than One Child in College.”

    The IRS Data Retrieval Tool returns with the 2018-19 FAFSA, with added security and privacy protections. This tool allows students to import tax information directly into the FAFSA form.

    Fall Urban Trout Stocking Schedule

    Every year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks trout in several lakes across Iowa. During the months of October and November, the DNR will release 1,000 to 2,000 rainbow trout at each location to bring fishing to the urban parts of the state. Many times, Iowans are not able to travel to lakes in northeast Iowa to fish for trout, so this program brings the trout to them.

    In order to fish in these stocked lakes, a valid fishing permit and a trout fee is needed and there is a daily catch limit of five trout per licensed angler.

    Below are the times and lakes the DNR will be stocking:

    Oct. 20, Sand Lake, Marshalltown, Noon
    Oct. 26, Banner Lake (South), Summerset State Park, Indianola, 11 a.m.
    Oct. 26, Big Lake, Council Bluffs, 2 p.m.
    Oct. 27, Ottumwa Park Pond, Ottumwa, 11 a.m.
    Oct. 27, Lake Petocka, Bondurant, Noon
    Oct. 28, Discovery Park, Muscatine, 10 a.m.
    Oct. 28, Heritage Pond, Dubuque, 10 a.m.
    Oct. 28, Wilson Lake, Fort Madison, Noon
    Nov. 1, Bacon Creek, Sioux City, 1:30 p.m.
    Nov. 2, North Prairie Lake, Cedar Falls, Noon
    Nov. 2, Moorland Pond, Fort Dodge, Noon
    Nov. 16, Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake, Ames, Noon
    Nov. 17, Prairie Park (Cedar Bend), Cedar Rapids, 10 a.m.
    Nov. 17, Terry Trueblood Lake, Iowa City, 11 a.m.
    Nov. 18, Scharnberg Pond, Spencer, Noon
    Nov. 22, Blue Pit, Mason City, 11 a.m.

    For more information regarding this program, please visit: www.iowadnr.gov/trout.