Grassley Catches Up On United Way Involvement

Senator Chuck Grassley helps to fill a backpack at Penn Central Mall this past week.

Senator Chuck Grassley helps to fill a backpack at Penn Central Mall this past week.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – United Way of Mahaska County is nearing their ‘Campaign Season’, which is the time of the year they reach out to the community members for their support to help others.

One of those community projects United Way has been highly involved with is Operation Backpack, which had previously helped families with financial constraints obtain the school supplies needed for the upcoming year.

This year, United Way of Mahaska County, Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahaska County, and the Mahaska County YMCA are hosting the Back to School Fair on Tuesday, August 14th beginning at 4 pm.

“We have a lot of supplies that we have purchased,” said Amy Meyer, Director of United Way of Mahaska County.

Meyer said that 500 kids have already registered for the program, “and we’re expecting even more at the Back To School Fair.”

In past years, there was a financial threshold that had to be met to qualify for the free supplies. This year is different explained Meyer. “Any time you draw a line, there’s probably people that you’re missing. People who maybe just lost a job or had to spend a lot of money on healthcare needs. So just asking income doesn’t always reflect the situation people are in, so we said this year, if you ask and sign up, you can get it.”

There will be much more for the back to school kids. Dental screening, haircuts, vision screenings, games, and booths from approximately 25 different area organizations.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley reached out to Meyer and the United Way of Mahaska County to see some of the work the group does in the community. On Wednesday, he arrived at Penn Central Mall, where he observed volunteers filling some backpacks, and spoke with Meyer and others about the programs and impact United Way is having in Mahaska County.

United Way of Iowa has had an initiative centered around SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). “We want to make sure that SNAP continues to be a program that people can rely on.”

United Way of Mahaska County has been the driving force behind the summer lunch program that has expanded to the Rose Hill community this past year.

Because there are over 50% of the students on free or reduced lunches in the area, the USDA has made summer lunch programs and funding available to help ensure young people can get nutritious meals during the summer months.

This year, the program served approximately 7000 meals to area children during the summer break.

Meyer spoke about the new site in Rose Hill. “There was some really active community members there who just took it under their wing and did it great.”

Grassley watched as students worked together to fill approximately 200 backpacks ahead of time. During that time, the Senator asked Meyer questions about the different programs United Way is involved with locally.

Picking up a backpack, Grassley went through the line, helping to fill a backpack for a student.

Grassley and the United Way staff and board members then retreated to a roundtable discussion, in which the topic turned to the ALICE Report for Iowa.

ALICE stands for Asset-Limited Income-Constrained, Employed, which are Iowa households that earn above the Federal Poverty Level who cannot meet a basic needs budget.

The report outlines that 42% of senior households in Iowa are below the ALICE threshold, while 31% of families in Iowa with children are below the ALICE threshold. In all, 1/3 of those children impacted live with married parents.

The report says that of Iowa’s 1.2 million households, 457,000, or 37%, could not afford basic needs like food, housing, and transportation.

The ALICE report states that the survival budget for a family of four, including two adults and infant and a toddler, is $56,000. Federal Poverty Level for the same family is $24,300.

The report states that 66% of Iowa jobs pay below $20 per hour, and more than half of those pay less than $15 per hour, which equals $30,000 a year.

For the United Way in Iowa, those numbers indicate that the struggle is real for Iowan’s not able to cover basic food, housing, transportation, child care and health care.

In Iowa, 171,000 households participated in SNAP during February, with an average of $236.48 in benefit. The ALICE Report shows that 450,000 Iowa households don’t meet a basic survival budget.

During the meeting with Grassley, the summer lunch program, as well as homelessness in Mahaska County were also discussed.

SNAP funds are part of the Farm Bill, which is up for debate right now in Congress. The House of Representative and the Senate have two separate ideas at this point on what the farm bill will be like going forward. “Is there a compromise between the House bill and the Senate bill? I don’t see one,” said Grassley. “We in the Senate feel there are some things wrong with the food stamp, or SNAP program, and we have done some things in the Senate bill to improve it; so those things we feel are wrong don’t continue to happen. That’s not enough for the house.”

That roadblock may mean that both houses of Congress extend the current farm bill an additional year. “That’s the best update I can give you,” said Grassley.

“We think it’s very important to have a five-year farm bill to give farmers certainty, and of course it gives your food stamp program certainty,” said Grassley.

Afterward, Grassley took questions from local media outlets, before heading off to a fundraiser to aid a state politician.

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