Trump-sponsored UN tour highlights American poverty

Trump-sponsored UN tour highlights American poverty

Gazette Column
A United Nations team investigating extreme poverty and human rights toured the U.S. and found cause for concern. “The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty,” Philip Alston, the UN’s lead on extreme poverty and human rights, wrote in a report published Dec. 15. Alston’s team, which was invited by the Trump administration to tour the country, traveled through California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. and spoke with a wide variety of people, including government officials, local nonprofit leaders and those living in poverty. “My visit coincides with a dramatic change of direction…
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Cornell sorority aims to feed children, needs help

Cornell sorority aims to feed children, needs help

Gazette Column
Forget all the pop culture “mean girl” nonsense you’ve heard about sororities. The women of Beta Psi Eta at Cornell College are do-gooders with only a few more days to meet a lofty philanthropic goal. At the beginning of the academic year sorority members responded to a call from an alumna employed by the Marion Independent School District. The school had changed its policy regarding school lunches, and students with negative account balances could be denied a hot meal. “Most of us, at one point or another, have had a moment when we couldn’t have food at lunch through no fault of our own. It’s not fair to punish a child for something they have no control over. We don’t want any child to be hungry,” said Sara Renaud, Beta…
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Iowa misses opportunity to curb teenage risky behavior

Iowa misses opportunity to curb teenage risky behavior

Gazette Column
DES MOINES — Sex educators who gathered here last week for an annual conference have reason to be concerned. Iowa’s family planning landscape has changed, making it more difficult for teens to get needed information and services. The Legislature’s decision last spring to forgo federal family planning money in favor of a state-run program that excludes health care organizations that offer abortion services provided a small window for officials to write rules and implement the system. Even now, three months after the system was supposed to be in place, questions remain. The new process is time-consuming, requiring those hoping to access services to first apply at the nearest Department of Human Services or Title X office and wait for approval. A significant portion of providers listed on the department’s website…
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Iowa must raise the bar for immigrant families

Iowa must raise the bar for immigrant families

Gazette Column
A new national report makes clear that children of color and children living in immigrant families face persistent challenges that Iowa and other states aren’t adequately addressing. The report, “2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children,” was released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It details how such challenges are creating opportunity gaps, especially for African-American and Latino children in Iowa. “Iowans are used to seeing their state appear high in national rankings. But the reality is that Iowa’s environment for children — for children in every racial and ethnic group — is at best in the middle of the pack,” said Anne Discher, interim executive director of the Child and Family Policy Center, which supports the Casey Foundation’s Kids Count initiative in Iowa. “For…
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Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Gazette Column
With an eye toward the city of Cedar Rapids’ latest ordinance intended to curtail roadside panhandling, I took to social media and the streets Thursday with my writing hand extended. “Does the city need to do something about panhandling?” I asked friends and strangers alike. “And, if so, what?” My very non-scientific survey revealed that most — roughly 90 percent of the more than 100 people who engaged with me — don’t believe panhandling is a problem in Cedar Rapids. Several of these individuals spoke of panhandling situations in larger cities, where they’d been aggressively pursued by panhandlers on sidewalks or had received some unwanted service from a roadside panhandler, such as windshield cleaning. Those are not experiences they’ve had in Cedar Rapids and, more simply, they don’t see the…
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Can Iowa maintain high rank?

Can Iowa maintain high rank?

Gazette Column
Boosted by past policy decisions, Iowa has become a leader in child economic well-being. according to one national study. But the Hawkeye State is beginning to lag on children’s health. Iowa is among the top five states in the 2017 Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The study ranks states based on 16 indicators in four areas — health, education, economic well-being and family and community. The group says these are key factors in determining a child’s ability to thrive. Nationally, Iowa ranks third among states in economic well-being. It’s also among the top 10 for education (sixth), health (seventh) and family and community (eighth). The Hawkeye State’s composite ranking is fifth in the nation, following New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota. [caption id="attachment_1234" align="alignleft" width="640"]…
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Should punishment fit the crime or the risk?

Should punishment fit the crime or the risk?

Gazette Column
A bill intended to drastically reform punishment for domestic violence has quickly moved through the legislature this year. While good-intentioned, it opens the door for use of risk assessments in sentencing, and uses ineffective mandatory minimums. House File 2399 passed the Iowa House in March, 82-12. It was amended by the Senate to expand the definition of stalking, include GPS monitoring as stalking and classify dating violence as domestic abuse before being passed unanimously on April 6. The Senate also included mandatory-minimum punishments for stalking, harassment and repeat offenders. The House must take up the amended version before it is passed to Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk. The bill, according to the Legislative Services Agency, would require abusers to undergo mandatory risk assessment. The assessment would be developed and validated by…
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HUD ex-offender housing rule a smart move

HUD ex-offender housing rule a smart move

Gazette Column
America should be a country of second chances. This should be a nation in which each individual is judged on his or her own actions and merits. We don’t need to blindly trust, but we must step away from stereotypes that keep certain segments of the population from reaching their full potential, or bouncing back from past mistakes. This week the nation took a significant step toward that a goal when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released new guidelines for housing providers. Instead of universally and automatically banning anyone with a criminal record from renting or purchasing a property, landlords must now consider each individual’s specific circumstance. Landlords of federally-subsidized housing or in the private rental market who use blanket bans of potential clients with criminal records…
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Study shows wisdom of Cedar Rapids’ Hy-Vee incentive

Study shows wisdom of Cedar Rapids’ Hy-Vee incentive

Gazette Column
A decision by Cedar Rapids city leaders to use taxpayer dollars to keep a Hy-Vee neighborhood grocery store drew significant ire, but a new sociology study proves the funds were well spent. There are several similarities between Topeka, Kansas — the focus of the study — and Cedar Rapids. Census figures for 2013 show the cities with a population of roughly 128,000, with a population density of about 2,000 people per square mile. Both cities are predominantly white, although Topeka is more quickly moving toward diversity. Median income levels are similar, as is the percentage of residents living at or below the poverty line. Given the similar demographics and geographic proximity, it shouldn’t be surprising the communities are also wrestling with similar cultural issues. Both are, for instance, searching for…
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Minorities, especially, should cast a local ballot

Minorities, especially, should cast a local ballot

Gazette Column
There’s no doubt that a mere handful of votes can change the outcome of a city election, but there is even more at stake for Iowa’s underrepresented minority communities. Study voter turnout for any length of time and you’ll find political scientists who argue that increased engagement doesn’t provide significantly different election outcomes. But a look at the data behind such assertions shows their correlations are linked to the outcomes of national elections. About 62 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election. In 2010, about 41 percent voted in congressional races and, in 2012, about 58 percent participated in the presidential election. The 2014 midterm elections in Iowa garnered a high turnout of 53.3 percent, a number praised by state officials. Yet, nationally, only about…
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