Maya Angelo said in 1997, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them,” and it was her most valuable life lesson. Who hasn’t heard, “Actions speak louder than words.” I’m thinking about the words and actions we’ve heard recently from the legislature about workers and parents’ rights. Are we getting mixed messages and a disconnect between what is being said and actions we see?
I’m a native Iowan and my family taught me some pretty uniform Iowa values: work hard and expect fair wages; value public education and educators; don’t judge others; and help your neighbors and friends. We hear a lot about Iowa “values.” I’m not sure we’re all working with the same definition. There seems to be a disconnect.
Iowans want to work hard and receive fair wages to provide for their families. Legislators have increased a focus on working Iowans and claiming people won’t work. The legislature reduced access to unemployment benefits and the length of time it can be used last year. The legislature has proposed changes to eligibility for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) by putting in asset tests to see if people are worthy. If there are so many unfilled jobs, why is the unemployment rate at 3% in Iowa? The unemployment rate is low, but people won’t work. Isn’t that a mixed message?
Iowa hasn’t changed its $7.25 minimum wage since 2008. Does anything cost the same as in 2008? No. Can a family survive on that minimum wage? No. Iowa needs a $15/hour minimum wage so Iowans can work one job and support their family. Legislators want to impose more restrictions on SNAP but don’t want to raise wages so families can be self-sufficient. Isn’t that a mixed message? Is the concern about welfare of Iowa’s workforce or welfare of corporations?
Large employers don’t offer benefit coverage unless the employee works over 30 hours per week. If an hourly rate attracts employees, but work hours are reduced, a $15/hour job becomes a 29 hour/week job with no insurance. Higher wages with reduced hours impact take-home pay and eliminates benefits.
Many Iowa workers have multiple jobs but that doesn’t guarantee “making ends meet” or insurance coverage for families. People are working hard and still have trouble paying rent, buying groceries, providing insurance, clothing children and functioning as a family. Iowans are working hard and still being criticized.
Iowans value public education and want safe schools for all students. Legislators proposed bills that allow guns on school property and in school parking lots. Legislators proposed 29 laws focused on LGBTQ students. Iowa legislators say “parents’ rights” are important when it comes to decisions about bathrooms, book choices, curriculum and pronouns in public schools, but then say “parents’ rights” are not important when it comes to decisions about gender affirming health care for their child.
I acknowledge we live in a time of division. Life has taught me to follow this advice: “When there’s a disconnect between words and actions, believe the actions.” Who are the constituents of Iowa Legislators? We are. The actions of the Iowa Legislature this year seems less about paying attention to the needs of Iowans and more about the hearing imagined fears from a very narrow segment of Iowa. It seems they are trying to fix problems that don’t exist. They should try to lift up all Iowans instead of what’s best for the privileged few. Iowans want to be respected and heard even when opinions differ. Pay attention when actions shout louder than words. Don’t give up.