State still has role in food assistance

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 6 2014 | 11:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:06 am in

By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Demand on Iowa food banks and the pantries they assist has been high since the 2008-09 recession and remained so during the slow economic recovery.

The state poverty rate has increased in recent years, even though more Iowans are employed now than during the recession. Wage stagnation and too few people with the kind of skills in demand these days has led to a larger pool of “working poor” who can’t always afford the basics for their family — such as enough food.

Last year, Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature approved $1 million as a match for eight major food banks to receive if they raised a similar amount by June 30 this year. It was the state’s first such appropriation and we thought it was appropriate, given the need and the importance of making sure all Iowans have access to enough nutrition.

That was a one-year appropriation. Meantime, all the vital signs indicate that food banks are seeing as much or more demand than last year. Some legislators are proposing another $1 million for next fiscal year; some want a standing appropriation so the issue doesn’t have to be debated every year.

We think legislators should act again this year. It’s the right thing to do. But we are skeptical that they should make the appropriation permanent. Things change. If Iowa’s economy, job market and workers’ skills improve enough, fewer people should need to supplement their diet with the help of food pantries. And legislators surely can agree to reduce or increase the state’s aid as those conditions improve or worsen.

Meanwhile, we think two other related legislative proposals show promise and deserve support. One bill would add a food bank checkoff option on state income tax forms; the other would exempt Iowa’s eight Feeding America food banks from sales tax. They could help stabilize the food supply for the poor and elderly.

One way or another, legislators should OK assistance for food banks. Individually, Iowans can learn how to help at http://iowafba.org/.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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