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Statehouse News, September 10, 2014

September 10, 2014

Boosting Iowa’s Middle Class
Nation’s First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Opens in Iowa
Iowans Reminded to be Cautious of School Buses
Tips for Monitoring Your Credit and Debit Card Accounts
National Lifeline Awareness Week and Phone Assistance
State Public Defender Lauds Legislative Changes
Webinars on Affordable Care Act for Small Business Owners

Boosting Iowa’s Middle Class

The foundation of our economy is rooted in the strength of the middle class. The last decade has been especially tough for the middle class with stagnant wages that have not kept pace with rising costs. We need to grow our economy, create new jobs, and make sure young people aren’t forced to leave Iowa to pay off student debt or find a good job. One of the keys to a growing the middle class is affordable, quality child care. Eleven percent of a family’s annual income is spent on childcare costs, just over $9,000 a year. Currently, 42,300 children from low-income families qualify for child care assistance. With many two-parent working families in Iowa, we need to expand childcare assistance to more families and make sure child care isn’t a barrier for parents who need to gain new skills to land a job that pays better wages.

Over the last 30 years, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with the struggles many middle class families face. Raising the minimum wage in Iowa will not only give those families a boost but will inject new money into Iowa’s economy. Since 58% of minimum wage workers are women, it is also a step forward in guaranteeing that women earn equal pay for equal work.

Other initiatives to ensure Iowa’s middle class can thrive include targeting state incentives to encourage more investment in small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs; making sure Iowa companies get first crack at state contracts to create jobs here, not overseas; providing tax incentives so more young Iowans can save money for a down payment on their first home; and cracking down on corporations that fail to pay workers while protecting small businesses from unfair competition.

Nation’s First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Opens in Iowa

On September 3rd, Iowa became home to the nation’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, which uses corn waste as a feedstock. Once operating at full capacity, the biorefinery in Emmetsburg, Iowa will produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year – enough to avoid approximately 210,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The facility is called Project LIBERTY. It was developed with the support of approximately $100 million in investments and research from the U.S. Department of Energy. The facilities use biochemical conversion technologies such as yeast and enzymes to convert cellulosic biomass into transportation fuels.

A statement from the department says Project LIBERTY will produce cellulosic ethanol from corncobs, leaves, husks, and corn stalk harvested by local farmers located within a 30 to 40 mile radius of the plant. It also produces enough energy to power the entire facility as well as POET-DSM’s co-located existing corn ethanol plant. This is enough to power about 70,000 American homes for a year.

Iowans Reminded to be Cautious of School Buses

Now that school has officially opened in all districts across the state, the Department of Education is reminding both drivers and students to be safe around school buses. It is important that Iowa drivers to be vigilant in watching students heading to and from the buses and students to be cautious as they approach a school bus.

Here are some reminders for drivers:

  • When the bus’s yellow flashers turn on, that signifies that it is preparing to have child get on or off the bus. All vehicles behind the bus must come to a complete stop.
  • If you are approaching a bus from the opposite direction, slow your speed to 20 mph when the bus turns on its yellow flashers.
  • On a two-lane road, traffic in both directions must come to a full stop when the lights are flashing red.
  • On a four-lane road, traffic moving in the opposite direction must slow down and proceed with caution when either red or yellow flashers are present.
  • Stop your vehicle at least 15 feet from the bus.
  • Remain stopped until the flashing lights are turned off and the stop arm is pulled back in.
  • Failure to comply could result in a fine of $250 plus court costs.
Here are reminders for students:

  • Stop and look both ways before crossing a street.
  • Make sure you’re bus driver can see you when you are crossing in front of the bus. If you cannot see the driver, the driver cannot see you.
  • Never cross behind the bus.
  • When getting on or off the bus, never cross the street until the bus driver signals it’s OK to cross.
  • If you drop something near the bus, do not pick it up. Instead, tell the bus driver what you dropped, and let the driver instruct you on what to do.

Tips for Monitoring Your Credit and Debit Card Accounts

The Attorney General is reminding Iowans to take extra precautions in monitoring their credit and debit cards in light of the announcement from Home Depot that they are trying to confirm as to whether a breach of customer information has taken place. Below are tips that persons can take whether they shopped at Home Depot in the past six months or not.

No matter whether you shopped at Home Depot or not, it is advised that you always review your card statements to verify the charges on your card. If you think that you might be affected by a security breach, you should change your PIN number on your debit card; it’s an easy proactive measure. Ordering a copy of your credit report from one of three major credit bureaus, listed below, and reviewing that report is another step that you can take. Everyone is entitled to one free report per year, and if you should find unauthorized activity, it should be reported.

The three major credit bureaus are:

  • Equifax: Phone: 1-(800) 525-6285; Address: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian: Phone: 1-(888) 397-3742; Address: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion: Phone: (800) 680-7289; Address: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.

National Lifeline Awareness Week and Phone Assistance

September 8-14 has been designated as National Lifeline Awareness Week and the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) would like to remind Iowans of the qualifications for the federal Lifeline telephone assistance program. This program provides a monthly reduction of $9.25 on the telephone bill for customers that meet a certain income threshold.

A monthly reduction of $9.25 is provided on a telephone bill for customers that have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participates in or is eligible for certain public assistance programs to receive this basic telephone service discount. Customers can use the monthly reduction on either a wireline or wireless phone, but it is limited to one reduction per household. If there are households that are currently receiving assistance for more than one telephone, the household must de-enroll from all but one telephone service provider.

Information about the program and an application can be found at http://www.state.ia.us/government/com/util/forms/CustServ/LifelineInfo&Form.pdf. You can also contact your local telecommunications provider to see if they participate, or the IUB at 1-877-565-4450.

State Public Defender Lauds Legislative Changes

State Public Defender Sam Langholz terminated the contracts of eight attorneys included in a report released this week by the state auditor indicating improper billing practices. The improper practices led the legislature to take action this session to change the process for attorneys to submit claims to the state public defender.

The legislature this year made it easier for the state public to share information to investigate fraud and other criminal activity for attorneys submitting claims to the office.

Langholz said, “This thorough report supports the conclusions of our internal review that led me to cancel the indigent defense contracts of eight of the attorneys included in the report. It also supports the proactive changes that we have already implemented to detect and prevent further improper billing by indigent defense contract attorneys.”

In addition to these legislative changes, the state public defender has changed the administrative rules for contract attorneys to create additional safeguards, such as requiring itemized reimbursements from these attorneys working with the office. The state public defender will also move to an online claim system.

Webinars on Affordable Care Act for Small Business Owners

The Small Business Association (SBA) and the Small Business Majority are hosting free webinars regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The webinar will focus on what the new healthcare law, means for small businesses. It will focus on both federal and state provisions to help local small business owners understand how the law will affect them. Topics being discussed include:

  • Small business tax credits (available to businesses and tax-exempt non-profits) – who’s eligible for them and how to claim them.
  • Marketplace updates.
  • Shared responsibility.
  • Cost containment.
  • Tools and resources available for small businesses interested in learning more about the law.

The webinars occur every Thursday at 1:00 pm CST from the months of September to October. These webinars will also be held in Spanish, which will be held every other Tuesday at 3:00 pm CST through the rest of the year. Webinar dates and links can be found at http://www.sba.gov/healthcare. If you cannot make the webinars, visit https://www.healthcare.gov/small-businesses to find out more information about the requirements of businesses and the ACA.

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