September 27, 2017

    Governor Borrows Money Again to Balance State Budget
    Now is the Time to Get Your Flu Vaccine
    Medical Cannabidiol Board Takes Next Step
    New Medicare Cards Coming
    September is Veteran Suicide Prevention Month
    Iowans Have Opportunity to Give Input on Natural Resource Programs
    Attorney General: Iowans Should Act Now Following Massive Equifax Security Breach
    Transportation Commission Invests in Public Transit Vehicles
    Iowa’s Every Student Succeeds Act Plan Moves Forward

    Governor Borrows Money Again to Balance State Budget

    Governor Kim Reynolds was forced to borrow millions from the state’s savings account last week to keep the state budget balanced. It’s the third time this year that Republican lawmakers and the Governor have had to make adjustments to keep the state budget in the black.

    When fiscal year ended on June 30, 2017, it was anticipated that $104 million was needed to balance the budget. Between June 30 and the end of September, the state continues to reconcile the books with late revenues (such as late income tax filings and sales taxes) and late payments out for services or materials when the bill didn’t come in until after June 30.

    According to the executive branch, the projected $104 million shortfall was reduced to just $14.6 million at the end of September. Since the shift is significant, Democratic lawmakers are working to hold Reynolds accountable and make sure the budget is being managed responsibly. Earlier this year, the administration held up the tax returns for thousands of Iowans because the state didn’t have enough money to pay them.

    The first adjustment to the FY 17 budget was done back in January when Republican lawmakers cut $88 million from state agencies’ budgets and transferred $25 million from other funds. In April at the close of the 2017 legislative session, Republican lawmakers and the Governor agreed to transfer $131 million from the Cash Reserve Fund. As a result of these reductions, homeowners are paying higher property taxes; students are paying higher tuition for college; and nursing home inspections and elder abuse claims are not being investigated.

    Awaiting REC’s October Meeting

    The state’s non-partisan budget experts, the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC), will meet on October 19 and legislators will be waiting to hear if this non-partisan panel changes their revenue estimates for FY 18. The Legislature has already approved a budget for FY 18, which includes an ending balance of $107 million. If REC’s estimates result in a decrease of revenue by more than $107 million at both their October and December meetings, the Legislature will need to revisit the FY 18 budget so that it can be balanced.

    Now is the Time to Get Your Flu Vaccine

    Despite the influenza season not officially starting until late fall, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is recommending Iowans get their flu shot. Already, cases of the flu have been reported across Iowa to IDPH.

    The vaccination can take up to two weeks to become effective. IDPH recommends that every Iowan over 6 months of age receive the flu vaccine. It is especially important for some people to be vaccinated against influenza because they are at higher risk of developing serious complications, like pneumonia, if they get sick with the flu. These groups include:

      • Pregnant women (by getting vaccinated when pregnant, the woman not only protects herself during this vulnerable time, but she will pass on protection to her newborn who is too young to receive a vaccine).
      • Children, especially those younger than 2 years of age.
      • Older adults, especially those aged 65 years and over.
      • People who have certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

    Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by viruses. Illness typically lasts two to seven days. The flu comes on suddenly and may cause severe illness or even death, even in healthy individuals. Obtaining a vaccination is the best defense against the flu. In addition, by being vaccinated, you will prevent spreading the flu to those around you. For more information about Iowa influenza tracking and monitoring, visit https://www.idph.iowa.gov/influenza.

    Medical Cannabidiol Board Takes Next Step

    The Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board held their second meeting and is now taking the next step to license manufacturers and distributors of medical cannabidiol in Iowa.

    By approving administrative rules for the program, potential manufacturers and dispensaries now know what is required by the state to get a license to operate in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Public Health hopes that it will be able to issue licenses beginning December 2017 so selling to patients and primary caregivers can begin on April 1, 2018.

    Iowa’s cannabidiol law allows for up to two manufacturers to be licensed and produce cannabidiol that has no more than 3% THC. According the rules that the Board has adopted, the manufacturer will deliver the cannabidiol product to the dispensary and document the time and reason for all stops, including refueling.

    The administrative rules for the program now must be approved by the State Board of Health and the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee. More information about Iowa’s law, the rules, and the Board can be found at https://idph.iowa.gov/mcarcp.

    New Medicare Cards Coming

    The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will be sending out new Medicare cards to all enrollees beginning in April of 2018.

    The new Medicare card will no longer include Social Security numbers (SSN). Instead, that will be replaced with a unique, randomly-assigned number. The new assigned number will include uppercase letters and numbers. The removal of the SSN is to help prevent fraud and identity theft.

    When Medicare enrollees receive the new card in the mail, they will be instructed to safely and securely destroy their current Medicare card and keep their new Medicare number confidential. There will also be a 21-month transition period where doctors, healthcare providers, and suppliers will be able to use either their current SSN-based Medicare number or their new, unique Medicare number, to ease the transition. For more information, please visit: www.cms.gov/newcard.

    September is Veteran Suicide Prevention Month

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has designated September as Suicide Prevention Month. In 2014, there was an average of 20 suicides per day by service members or veterans. Two-thirds of these deaths were veterans age 50 and older. Female veterans are at a risk for suicide at a rate of 2.4 times higher than their female civilian counterparts.

    In response to this crisis, the VA has designated preventing suicide as one of its top priorities. The VA has recently expanded the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), and since its inception, the VCL has answered almost 3 million calls and provided more than 475,000 referrals to a VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator. It has been shown that those veterans or service members who go to the VA for mental health care or reach out to the VCL are less likely to commit suicide than those who don’t.

    The VA has also created the #BeThere campaign to spread information about military suicide rates and connect veterans to organizations that can provide help. If you know a veteran who is struggling, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

    For more information regarding the #BeThere campaign and the Veterans Crisis Line, please visit: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/BeThere.aspx.

    Iowans Have Opportunity to Give Input on Natural Resource Programs

    Iowans across the state will have the opportunity to discuss Iowa’s natural resources through the annual Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) assemblies. The assemblies will discuss Iowa’s outdoor recreation, soil and water enhancement, historical resources and land management. The assemblies are locally led meetings in each community.

    REAP provides funding for local projects through a grant process. REAP is funded by the state’s Environment First Fund, which provided $12 million this year. Since 1989, more than $330 million has been awarded through REAP to projects focused on water quality, outdoor recreation, and historical resources.

    “These meetings are a great opportunity for us to meet with Iowans one-on-one and hear their ideas for their parks, trails, museums and other amenities. Participation from community members is essential for all of us to work together to enhance our recreational opportunities in our state,” said Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

    The meetings are held at 6:30 pm in the communities listed below. Meetings last approximately 90 minutes. Additional information on REAP can be found at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Conservation/REAP and additional information the REAP Assemblies can be found at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Conservation/REAP/REAP-Public-Participation/REAP-Regional-Assemblies.

    Attorney General: Iowans Should Act Now Following Massive Equifax Security Breach

    Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has opened an investigation into Equifax Inc. after the credit reporting company notified the Consumer Protection Division that nearly 1.1 million Iowans are affected by the massive data breach. Nationwide, the breach exposed the personal information of $143 million consumers.

    AG Miller also urged all Iowans to check on whether the breach exposed their personal information. Equifax established a data breach website at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Consumers can run a simple check by entering in their last name and the last six digits of their Social Security number. The site will instantly display a message stating whether the breach exposed their personal information.

    The Equifax data breach included Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers. The company disclosed that the breach occurred between mid-May through June, and that so far it has not found evidence of unauthorized activity.

    Regardless of whether a consumer’s information was exposed in the breach, Equifax is offering free credit report monitoring for one year. Consumers can enroll through November 21 for “TrustedID Premier” monitoring at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

    Consumers with questions can also call an Equifax breach call center at 866-447-7559 from 6 a.m. to midnight, Central time.

    Transportation Commission Invests in Public Transit Vehicles

    The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) commission has approved the funding of 60 new vehicles for the state’s public transit system to replace older vehicles that are past their useful life. The $6.8 million in funding comes from federal grant programs: the Federal Transit Administrative and Bus Facilities Formula Program and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. Iowa relies on these federal grant programs to maintain operable public transit vehicles.

    The replacement vehicles were approved for 19 separate rural and urban transit systems. The complete list of funded vehicles can be found at https://iowadot.gov/transit/funding/FFY2017TransitProgram.pdf.

    The Commission also approved $2.6 million in funding for rail infrastructure and development projects for three projects across the state. The funding comes from the Railroad Revolving Loan and Grant Program. The projects are expected to help with the creation and retention of 105 jobs over the next three to five years.

    Iowa’s Every Student Succeeds Act Plan Moves Forward

    After more than a year of development, feedback, focus groups and revisions, Iowa has submitted its plan to the U.S. Department of Education to meet the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA maintains the former No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability, but with less mandates, and shifts the decision-making process back to states and local school districts.

    States must set long-term goals for proficiency in reading and math, graduation rates, and English Language Proficiency. Iowa’s goals are based on the Iowa Assessments, which students will take for the last time in the 2017-18 school year. Proficiency goals will change after Iowa chooses a new state assessment for 2018-19 as directed by the Legislature.

    Iowa’s goals through ESSA include the following:

    Reading/math proficiency rates: Increase for all students by half a percentage point each year over five years and for minority students one percentage point each year over five years to help close the achievement gap.

    Graduation rate: Iowa already leads the nation in graduation rates, and is the only state with a graduation rate over 90%. The plan builds on that success with a goal of 95% graduation rate for all students and 97% for students who take an additional year to graduate.

    English language proficiency: Five-point increase in the percentage of English learners who are proficient within five years.

    Through the plan, Iowa will also provide support to schools for students in foster care, and who are homeless, migratory, military connected, or neglected and delinquent. An annual audit of school districts and accredited nonpublic schools will identify schools in need of action plans, tools and resources.

    The U.S. Department of Education review will take up to 120 days, which could entail minor revisions. The Iowa Department of Education will provide further guidance and support to school districts on ESSA implementation starting this fall. Iowa’s complete ESSA plan, along with a snapshot and summary overview of the plan, are available on the Iowa Department of Education’s website at https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/every-student-succeeds-act.