Q&A: Iowa Representative Dave Heaton
and Senator Joe Bolkom
Representative Dave Heaton
Senator Joe Bolkom
Q: What does family failure mean to you?
Sen. Bolkcom: Clearly, state and local governments spend public resources when families fail when they can’t make ends meet when they can’t find good jobs and when kids have problems in school. We want to focus on turning that around. We want to help families be successful.
Rep. Heaton: I’m a conservative guy. But stable income, food on the table, health care for the kids and parents─that’s what you strive for, and that’s what you want to see as a legislator. When the basics break down, it sets up a whole list of failures.
Q: State legislators can choose to be involved in an array of issues. What drew you to this concept helping families succeed?
Sen. Bolkcom: I’m interested in making sure that people have an opportunity to get ahead if they’re willing. When people lack these kinds of opportunities, it drags down the entire community. One of our jobs as a legislature is to ensure that people actually have an opportunity to achieve the American dream. Being able to support yourself and your family is the bedrock of the dream. We have an obligation to make sure that this kind of equity of opportunity is real─that people who are working full-time can support their families.
Rep. Heaton: There are a lot of good policies here to work with. For example, we created our own EITC. We conducted outreach for the federal Credit. As I looked for ways to make life better for lower-income working people, I realized there’s no easier way to put money back in their pocket than the EITC. But here’s the deal: sometimes people’s incomes are low because they made poor choices or came from families that made poor choices, so sometimes these same people will take their EITC money and spend it on frivolous things. We also need to teach people how to manage their money, how to budget, how to save and plan for the future. When we give them the financial skills, then we’re doing some good.
Q: States are facing some of the toughest fiscal conditions in decades. Can you afford to invest in measures designed to help families get ahead?
Sen. Bolkcom: I think these are issues we can’t afford not to deal with. The downturn has hurt families. More are out of work or are having trouble scraping by, and this puts a stress on the state budget as people end up on public welfare rolls. So if we can be proactive and help families succeed and become more independent from the get-go, it helps everyone. Skills and job training and retraining are very important right now. We need to make community college more affordable, for instance.
Rep. Heaton: My appropriations chair is telling me no new programs, no new money. We have a $700 million problem here. We’re spending more than we take in. I’m in a mindset that tells me I just want to hold on to what we have, so I’m first thinking of basic things. I want to sustain child care and food stamps programs. I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated─times are hard. But we’ll keep after it, yes.
Q: Are there any particular stories that stand out when you think about these issues?
Sen. Bolckom: I’ve met people who have to go to payday loan shops because they literally have no place else to turn. They have to borrow money at 360 percent interest just to support their families even though they’re working full time jobs and spending their money wisely. There should be an alternative to financing daily needs.
Q: Why was the successful families caucus valuable?
Rep. Heaton: I thought it was really enjoyable. The atmosphere was bipartisan, and the emphasis was focusing on practical solutions that work.
Sen. Bolkcom: The caucus brought together legislators in a bipartisan fashion to work toward creating more successful families. We all have families in our districts that struggle. If our solutions are bipartisan, we’re likely to end up with a better set of strategic supports. We’re also more likely to be able to sustain new initiatives over time.
Q: What were some of the keys to making the caucus work?
Sen. Bolkcom: We had some really good people in place who jointly concluded that we had to work together and create successful policies. Our commitment to that sentiment sustained us, and the Northwest Area Foundation’s support really helped. We had someone facilitate who helped bring us together and supported our work. Our regular staff is terrific, but they have so much work to do. The dedicated facilitator was key.
Q: What are you excited about going forward?
Sen. Bolkcom: We’re going to make another attempt to improve the EITC and raise it to 10% of the federal credit. We’d also like to enact legislation that will lower the interest rate on payday loans.