October 31, 2014

Iowa Policy Project report says state work support programs lacking

ipp-logoA new report from the Iowa Policy Project (IPP) finds many work-support policies for low-income Iowa families are presenting barriers to those families moving out of poverty. IPP research director Peter Fisher says the “basic needs” cost of living for an Iowa family is two to three times higher than federal poverty guidelines.

“Therein lies the problem, because most public benefit programs, including these work supports, are geared to the official federal poverty guidelines and most of them cut off benefits well before that self-sufficiency wage is reached,” Fisher says. This is the last of three reports on “The Cost of Living in Iowa” issued by IPP this year.

An earlier report stated 1 in 6 Iowa households do not earn enough to provide for a basic standard of living. Fisher says programs, such as Child Care Assistance, have “cliff effects.” Eligibility for the program vanishes when an family makes just 145-percent of the federal poverty level, which is very low, according to Fisher.

“That’s a huge penalty to take for someone who’s in a low-wage job, find they can work more hours or get an opportunity to get a better job, they can find themselves in a position of making their families worse off by earning more money because they would lose all of that child care assistance,” Fisher says. “We have one of the lowest eligibility ceilings in the country at 145-percent of poverty. Many states go to 200-percent of poverty or close to it.”

The IPP report recommends several reforms to Iowa’s work-support policies, such as raising the eligibility for the Child Care Assistance program to 200-percent of the poverty level and implementing a copay schedule that “eases people off the program” as their income rises.



Solon man fired after recording Dubuque school van speeding

Jay Shipley

Jay Shipley (photo courtesy of KCRG TV)

The man who used his phone to record a Dubuque school vehicle speeding on Interstate 380 is out of a job. Jay Shipley of Solon says his employer, TruGreen, fired him for recording the incident while driving a company vehicle. While traveling to a landscaping job on October 21, Shipley spotted the Dubuque Schools cargo van with five students on board.

He told KCRG-TV that the van was traveling up to 90 miles-an-hour. The video shows the speedometer on Shipley’s vehicle was at just over 80 miles-an-hour as he pulled up alongside the van. “What caught my attention is I’m a father of a 7-year-old and when I saw that I immediately thought of my 7-year-old,” Shipley said.

He said he first called 911. Then, he started recording video and posted it to Facebook. Two days later, TruGreen suspended him. He was fired Tuesday. Shipley admits driving while recording video was dangerous, but he believes the company’s policy should not restrict employees from doing what they believe is right.

“If I didn’t do it, nobody was going to do it,” Shipley said. “If this goes unnoticed and uncontrolled, then it’s everybody turning their head and nobody taking action.” TruGreen officials told KCRG its policy is to always follow federal, state and local laws. That includes prohibitions against speeding and cellphone use while driving.

Shipley thinks his firing was unjust and he wouldn’t change a thing. “I’d do it 1,000 times over,” Shipley said. “If it could save one child, I would do it time and time again.” The Dubuque Community School District is not saying if the van driver has been disciplined.

(Reporting by Katie Wiedemann, KCRG-TV)


Fertilizer company decides to build in Illinois over Iowa

Cronus-Chemicals-logoIowa is no longer in the running to land a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant. Tina Hoffman is spokesperson for the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “Just within the last couple of days, we were officially notified that the company had selected a location outside of the state,” Hoffman says. Officials with Cronus Chemicals have chosen Tuscola, Illinois as the site for the plant.

The company had also been considering a site in northern Iowa’s Mitchell County. “For the last few months, we really haven’t been competing for the project,” Hoffman said. “It really just didn’t seem like the best fit for Iowa, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprise.”

Cronus had initially looked at dozens of potential sites in nine states, but narrowed the decision down to Illinois or Iowa. The Tuscola location is roughly two-and-a-half hours south of the company’s headquarters in Chicago.

Iowa already has two massive fertilizer projects in the works. Egypt-based Orascom is behind a $1.8 billion Iowa Fertilizer Company plant under construction in southeast Iowa’s Lee County. CF Industries, located near Sioux City, is building a $1.7 billion expansion to its fertilizer plant.


Website calls Iowa a top place to retire

Wanna-be retirees may dream of swaying palm trees and gentle ocean breezes but it turns out, they should be thinking about Iowa instead. Hawaii ranks as the number-one destination for retirees, according to a study being released by MoneyRates.com, but Iowa is second on the list.

The investment website rates the states based on several criteria like crime rates, economy, weather and senior population growth. Iowa did well in all categories, especially the low crime rate. Perceived retirement meccas like Florida and Arizona ranked 4th and 6th respectively behind Idaho at number 3 and Vermont was 5th.


State unemployment rate up to 4.6% in September

Workforce-DevelopmentThe Iowa Workforce Development agency is reporting the state’s unemployment rate rose to 4.6 percent in September from 4.5 percent in August. IWD spokesperson Kerry Koonce isn’t surprised. “You’re seeing transition between summer and fall employment, so we’ll frequently see a little bit of bump this time of year,” Koonce says.

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent in September compared to 6.1 percent in August. The number of unemployed Iowans increased to 77,900 in September from 76,500 in August. There are roughly 3,000 more unemployed Iowans compared to a year ago.

Koonce says there was also an increase in the total number of working Iowans. “It jumped from 1,626,400 (in August) up to 1,629,700 (in September),” Koonce says. “That’s 33,000 higher than it was this time last year, so that’s still very strong improvement for the economy.”

Iowa’s construction sector added 1,600 jobs in September, following an “unexpected” loss of 1,200 jobs in August. Construction has added jobs in five of the last six months. Education and health services also added 1,300 jobs last month. “We did see some losses in trade and transportation (-1,000 jobs), with most of that in the transportation area,” Koonce says. “We also saw losses in leisure and hospitality (-1,600), which does tend to trend down this time of year.”

Employment in Iowa’s construction, health care, and finance sectors are at or near record levels, according to Koonce. Manufacturing trimmed 100 jobs last month, marking the fourth straight month that sector has cut employment in Iowa. “We saw large growth (in manufacturing) last year, so that’s just kind of leveling off,” Koonce says. Compared to one year ago, there are around 400 fewer jobs in Iowa’s manufacturing sector.

Senator Grassley says Burger King protestors have the wrong focus

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

A protest is planned this afternoon outside a Burger King in Des Moines, demonstrating against the company’s proposal to move its headquarters to Canada. The list of speakers at the 4 P.M. event includes the heads of two unions, a local teachers’ association and the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says the protesters should be focusing their efforts elsewhere. “They ought to be demonstrating to Congress to change the corporate tax laws, reduce the corporate tax rate so we’re competitive,” Grassley says, “and at the same time, any organization is going to have to be able to compete in the United States and expand their business or they won’t be in business.”

Burger King, which has more than 75 Iowa restaurants, is planning to acquire a successful Canadian donut shop chain and would move the fast-food company’s headquarters from Miami to Toronto. Grassley, a Republican, says the move is understandable, given America’s tax structure. He say the U.S. corporate tax rate is 35-percent while states add another four-percent — for a total of 39-percent.

“We’ve got to reduce the corporate tax rate to at least what the international average is of about 23%,” Grassley says. “Think how uncompetitive we are at 39, get it down to 23 so we can compete.” Drug store chain Walgreens came under fire in August after its leaders announced they were considering a plan to move the corporate headquarters overseas.

In an interview with Radio Iowa in August, Grassley called the United States’ tax system “unpatriotic” as U.S.-based companies have a very hard time competing in the global marketplace. Burger King is the latest corporation to weigh such a move.

“It’s another example of several other companies that are trying to be internationally competitive and do it in a way that compensates for the biggest corporate tax rate in the entire industrialized world,” according to Grassley. A former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley says U.S. corporations are storing up to two-trillion dollars in offshore accounts, money that could be used for “economic good” in the U.S.


Marion companies breaking ground for expansion

Construction is underway at the ELPLAST site.

Construction is underway at the ELPLAST site in Marion.

Two companies are scheduled to break ground on big projects this week in the eastern Iowa town of Marion. ELPLAST manufactures a brand of press to close zippers on flexible packaging, such as those used on a bag of shredded cheese.

ELPLAST, based in Poland, is opening its North American headquarters in Marion. Chad Rupert, president of ELPLAST America, told KCRG-TV that he lived in Chicago, but moved to Iowa when his wife accepted a job in Cedar Rapids.

“When we started looking for property (for ELPLAST), we looked in Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, and Marion,” Rupert said. “To be honest the city of Marion, from a business perspective, was doing all the right things. They’re very cooperative and it was a pretty easy decision.”

ELPLAST will break ground Wednesday on a 33,000-square-foot facility in the new Marion Enterprise Center, located off Highway 151 just east of town. Rupert anticipates the first phase of the project will create 30 to 35 jobs, but the operation could grow to as many to 80 jobs.

Legacy Manufacturing is also moving into the Marion Enterprise Center. The longtime Marion company makes lubrication equipment, water and air hoses, and other products. Mark Weems, President of Legacy Manufacturing, says they’re building a $10.4 million facility that will more than double their current space.

The hope is that the new building will allow them to make more parts for their products, rather than getting them from overseas. “This facility is critical because it will give us the space to bring American manufacturing jobs back to Marion, Iowa,” Weems said. Legacy plans to break ground on the 125,000-square-foot building late this afternoon.

The Marion Enterprise Center is a 180 acre industrial park. Legacy Manufacturing and ELPLAST are the first two tenants. There are still approximately 150 acres for sale at the industrial park.

By Heather Hubbs, KCRG-TV