Mental health issues affect virtually every family in one way or another. Yet, for far too long people with mental illness have been misunderstood, treated unfairly and underserved by big insurance companies and underrepresented by elected officials who have a responsibility to care for them. All too often, we hear stories about a person with mental illness “falling through the cracks of the system.”
Things have gotten better, including the passage of mental health insurance parity laws, but we have a long way to go. That’s one reason why I’ve devoted a large share of my time to closing those “cracks,” making our mental health system work better to serve those who need care and why I’ll continue to focus on that priority in the future.
Both political parties have their own perspectives on the delivery and funding of mental health care. I’ve worked with people from all political stripes to modernize an arcane, outdated system that frequently confounded and frustrated taxpayers, care providers, those who need care and even some government officials and staffs at the state, county and local levels.
I’ve been proud of my record in this area, because I know how important it is to the constituents I represent. I was chosen to serve on the Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Redesign Transition Committee in 2012 and I’ve been asked often to provide the county’s perspective to lawmakers, our state’s executive branch, and to work with many nonprofits and individuals who all share the same goal of delivering more effective care.
It is important to note that in Polk County, like many counties, “mental health” falls under a large umbrella. Mental health options on their own are important, for sure, but services to developmentally disabled individuals, substance abuse victims, the intellectually challenged population and citizens with brain injuries are also included under this same umbrella. The conversation surrounding mental health services always seems to begin in the weeds – and often goes even deeper into the weeds! It’s a complex issue, to say the least.
These services are funded by a combination of state appropriations and county property taxes. The current funding model is still broken. Counties, mental health regions and, particularly, providers, need a different revenue stream than property taxes. Growing counties like Polk, Linn and Dallas have tremendous demands on their services and paying for them with property taxes is the wrong approach.
This approach has been disproportionate. It’s unfair to property taxpayers and the mental health community and I’ll continue to work to remedy those inequities. The legislature has discussed a “penny sales tax,” part of which would fund mental health. This is a solid proposal that I support, as long as taxpayers get relief from those property taxes as a part of the deal.
Because mental health services and funding mechanisms are complex, complicated and evolving, Polk County needs experienced leadership to work through ongoing issues and create new solutions. I look forward to providing a foundation of institutional knowledge and advocating for innovative approaches as we move forward.
One of the areas I particularly enjoy working in is the area of “food rescue.” You don’t have to sell anyone on its value because citizens immediately understand and appreciate it. But food rescue is more than just giving what’s left on your plate to hungry people.
In truth, the hungry don’t want our scraps. They want – and deserve – the fundamental building blocks of life: sustenance and dignity.
To be a focused student, a good worker, a healthy, growing child or a thriving, self-sufficient member of society, one must first escape food insecurity and hunger.
Most of us recognize hunger as a recurrent, involuntary lack of food. But food insecurity is a huge problem for millions of Americans. Food insecurity is a lack of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or when the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain.
In short, families who don’t know where tonight’s meal or tomorrow’s food is coming from are food insecure.
Many people doubt that such challenges exist in Iowa, but consider these statistics:
· One in nine Iowans are food insecure
· One in six Iowa children do not have enough to eat
· 360,540 Iowans live at or below the poverty level
· 64% of clients served by the Food Bank of Iowa, have to decide between paying for food or paying for medical care or medicine
· 65% of clients served by the Food Bank of Iowa, have to decide between paying for food or paying their utilities
We work with terrific partners, such as the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), the Food Bank of Iowa, and Eat Greater Des Moines to “rescue” food that, for a number of reasons, is still of high quality but is likely to be thrown out. Many of our pantries, like the Urbandale Food Pantry in the Cedar Ridge Shopping Center (7611 Douglas Ave., #34-35), have aggressive food rescue programs and agreements with local grocers. This helps them provide “anytime food” at pantry counters.
Another example is our partnership with Eat Greater Des Moines, where they helped set up a regular rescue of food from the Iowa Events Center where many meals are served to meetings, conferences, and conventions. The food that is prepared for individuals but not consumed can be – and is – sent to schools, low-income housing units and others in need. I’m proud of Polk County’s role in that effort.
Polk County has worked diligently in the area of hunger and food insecurity reduction, but the most sustainable thing we do in that space is food rescue because that source of food will always be there.
Food is a basic human right. Ensuring that people of all ages in Polk County have healthy food so they can reach their full potential has been a priority of mine for many years. It will remain as long as I am in office – and beyond.
Iowa’s immigrant heritage is long, rich and diverse.
The French came into what is now Iowa in 1785 first when Julien Dubuque settled along the bluffs of the Mississippi River. Before long, the Germans, the Czechs, Norwegians, Swedes, and other Europeans followed. My own ancestors, which came to America from England in the mid-1600s, eventually found their way to the Midwest. One need only look at the magnificent Iowa Capital, built largely by Italian immigrants who settled on the south of Des Moines, to see the contributions of those who have come here from distant shores.
In the 1970s, the national standard for compassion to help those in need was personified by one exceptional leader. As the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, a Laotian ethnic group known as the Tai Dam was nearly annihilated by the North Vietnamese. Its leaders pleaded for help from their former ally, the Americans, by sending urgent appeals to all 50 U.S. governors. Only one replied. Promising the Tai Dam they could relocate to his state, the letter was signed Robert D. Ray, Governor of Iowa.
Two generations later, the Tai Dam are our teachers, coaches, engineers, successful businesspeople and valued employees. They’re an integral part of the fabric of Iowa now. Today, immigrants come from many different places with different languages, different customs and different traits, but they share a common purpose. They want to be Americans.
Today’s immigrants are no different than the French, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, English, Irish, Scottish, Italians or the Tai Dam. They want to be free. Free to speak their minds, to start a business or get a great education.
As more immigrants flow into our beautiful state, the Burmese, Somalis, central Africans and Iraqis, Salvadorans, Venezuelans and others will be our future neighbors, entrepreneurs, teachers, business leaders, medical professionals and more. They are coming to Iowa in search of a better, safer, more prosperous future for themselves, their children and grandchildren. They want to belong and contribute. They will make us a better place and we will help them live better, more secure lives.
It is important that we are a welcoming place. We’re the place with the national flag of France as the model for our state banner. The Iowa Tri-Color reminds us that no matter what we look like, we all came from somewhere else. All of us come from somewhere, but we all call Iowa “home.”
It has been a tremendous honor and joy for me to follow, in a small way, the footsteps of Robert Ray. I recognize, as you do, that small investments in helping our newest residents settle will pay big dividends for all for years to come.
My efforts as a county supervisor have been to work with and support the numerous Iowans who welcome legal immigrants who come here to fulfill their own American dream. Those newcomers will make greater Des Moines, our state and country stronger and more resilient than ever. I will continue to follow a prudent approach that offers a hand up – rather than a hand out – to help them reach their full potential and contribute the greatest good for decades to come.
Even in a broken world, human sexual trafficking is an evil that’s rarely paralleled in its depravity and the damage done to its victims. Stopping human trafficking in its tracks is one of my top priorities and will remain so as a Polk County Supervisor.
The late Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady addressed the darkness of human trafficking in his 2016 State of the Judiciary address before both houses of the Legislature. “We can no longer view human trafficking as a problem reserved for major cities in America,” he said. “It exists as a dark underworld in many communities across Iowa and is associated with some of Iowa’s most iconic places and events.”
Cady described a reality that many Iowans still cannot accept. They do not believe sex trafficking exists at all in our state. If they do, they think it is isolated to the occasional perpetrator or victim – people different than us – who just happen to be passing through because Des Moines is located at the junction of I-35 and I-80. It’s a conclusion that seems to make sense. But it is incorrect. Omaha is at the junction of I-80 and I-29 and Kansas City is at the junction of I-70 and I-35. People there make the same erroneous conclusions.
It happens in Des Moines, Omaha, and Kansas City because evil and sick individuals can make a large profit by trafficking young girls and boys. It happens in rural Iowa and suburbs, too. At times it is fueled by the twin scourges of meth addiction and opioid abuse as parents or grandparents sell their own children and grandchildren. And, it happens because these same sick and sickening people have a ready client base, willing and able to pay for it.
I support much harsher state and federal laws against these “customers,” locking them up for decades at a time. Only then will this well-connected, underground spread the word: Don’t practice your sick trade in central Iowa.
I have stood alongside those who are on the front lines of the fight against human sex trafficking, including the Youth Emergency Shelter (YESS) and Dorothy’s House, a recovery house for rescued girls located in metro Des Moines. Broadlawns Medical Center and the Des Moines Police Department, Polk County Sheriff’s Department and other local law enforcement agencies have been proactive and invaluable partners in this battle. Companies like Kum ‘N Go and Casey’s have been at the forefront of public awareness efforts through the Convenience Stores Against Trafficking (CSAT) program of the national nonprofit, In Our Backyard.
We’ve had small victories but there is so much more to be done and the battle will never end. We must all work together to make our communities, county and state the least hospitable place for this type of heinous crime to thrive.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate. Support is provided in more than 200 languages. Hotline staff are there to listen and connect you with the help you need to stay safe. Callers can dial 711 to access the Hotline using TTY. You can also email us at email@example.com. To report a potential human trafficking situation, call the hotline at 1-888-373-7888. All communication with the hotline is strictly confidential.