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New poverty benchmarks may affect Iowa City

BY MELISSA DAWKINS | NOVEMBER 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Johnson County may see its poverty level decrease, one expert said.

In a recently released report, officials take more factors — including geography — into account in defining the poverty level.

And with such differences included, fewer people in Iowa City may fall into the "poverty" category, said Amy Butler, a University of Iowa associate professor of social work.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010, issued this month by the U.S. Census Bureau, addresses variables not taken into account by the official poverty measure — such as familial variables, medical costs, additional expenses, and geographic differences.

"My guess is that [Iowa City will] see a slightly lower poverty rate— it all depends on how they calculate cost of living," she said.

The study will not replace statistics officials use when distributing benefits, Butler said. However, she said it provides a more comprehensive look at the scope of poverty in the United States.

In comparison to the official poverty measure, which estimated the number of those living in poverty in America at 46.6 million, the Supplemental Poverty Measure estimated the number of people living in poverty as 49.1 million.

Iowa City Community-Development Coordinator Steve Long said he is concerned government funding is not keeping pace with assisting low-income Iowa City residents.

"This is nationwide," he said. "I can say that the funds that we work with — specifically the Community Development Block Grant funds — are decreasing."

In fiscal 2012, Iowa City will receive $603,944 in Community Development Block Grants, according to a Community Development Block Grant and Home Investment Partnerships Program report.

Long said last year, the city saw a 14 percent decrease in Block Grant funds, distributed by the federal government.

In the last decade, he said, Iowa City has seen a 38 percent decrease in funds from the grant.
Rep. Steven Lukan, R-New Vienna, said the new findings give policymakers more to consider.

"I think it raises a lot of concerns for policymakers," he said. "We need to be working to raise wages. It's important to understand what the population is dealing with."

Butler said the new guidelines will provide a more accurate gauge of poverty levels in the United States.

"The advantage of the new measure is that it will give us a better sense of how this is helping people," she said.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Iowa City, said he thinks the November updates to the poverty benchmark are "long overdue."

"[The new benchmark] shows that people are working but not getting ahead," he said.

And Long said Iowa City officials are bracing for another 5 to 10 percent decrease in funds next year, which may cause a strain for the organizations that relay on the funds — such as the Mid-Eastern Council for Chemical Abuse, Shelter House, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Elder Services.

"Demand is great for these funds," he said. "… that means there are fewer services."


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