It’s 1980 again in Iowa for GOP

Nov 13, 2016

CEDAR FALLS — Things couldn’t have gone better Tuesday night for University of Northern Iowa student Regan Stevens.

In her first time voting for president, the 19-year-old Dubuque native watched her preferred candidate, President-elect Donald Trump, win nationally and in Iowa.

Stevens saw her hard work as a volunteer and as a turf organizer — working 30 hours a week for the last three months to elect Republicans — pay off.

“I just really feel like this is my ‘Reagan moment,’ ” said Stevens.

She was named after President Ronald Reagan because of the “patriotic feeling” her parents had for the 40th president. “I am ecstatic.”

She added, “So, hopefully, this is just a huge movement for our country, because he (Reagan) obviously went down in history as one of the best presidents ever.”

1980 again

In Iowa, it seems much like 1980 all over again. Republicans saw gains, some of them massive shifts, in Tuesday’s election.

When the final vote is counted, Trump seems likely to beat Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in Iowa by nearly 10 percentage points and more than 146,000 votes. Clinton won just six of Iowa’s 99 counties, grabbing urban population centers like Black Hawk County.

That sort of margins haven’t been seen in Iowa since Reagan’s 12-point win in 1980 when he took all but four urban counties.

The margins didn’t just elect Trump: three of Iowa’s four members of Congress remain Republican, as will its two senators. The Iowa House increased its Republican majority, and the Iowa Senate has a Republican majority for the first time in years.

“Of course, we are very excited by Iowa’s role in electing Donald Trump to be our next president, and we are also sending (U.S. Sen.) Chuck Grassley and (U.S. Rep.) Rod Blum back to Washington,” Greg Tagtow, of the Black Hawk County Republicans, said in a post-election Facebook message. “All in all, an amazing night.”

Swing state will?

In Northeast Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, many who supported Democratic President Barack Obama in his re-election bid in 2012 and voted for Trump on Tuesday.

Republican Mitt Romney won just three of 20 counties in the 1st District in 2012. This year, just two of the 20 counties went for Clinton. That means 15 counties that voted Obama in 2012 and went for Trump in 2016.

Trump’s margins in some counties were greater than Obama’s 2008 victory.

Even in Black Hawk County, which Clinton won, her total was lower than Obama’s 2012 margin by about 9 points.

County Democrats’ message following the election was one of reflection and heartbreak.

“It will take some time to process; it is discouraging and too simplistic to say that fear, hate and desperation ruled the day,” read a message on the Black Hawk County Democrats’ Facebook page.

Though things seem bleak for Democrats, experts say Iowa remains a swing state. This time, it just swung toward Republicans.

“One data point does not make a trend,” said Donna Hoffman, University of Northern Iowa political science department head. “We remain a competitive state. Should the next election and the even next election continue this kind of a trend, then maybe we have something there. But this is an unusual election that simply confirms that Iowa is up for grabs.”

Hoffman said Iowa’s demographics may have played a role in the shift to Trump. His strongest support came from older, whiter and less-educated Americans, of which Iowa has a significant number.

Her colleague Justin Holmes agreed.

“There’s something in the air right now, and I think to the degree that this is a fairly temporary phenomenon … as frankly were the two Obama victories,” Holmes said. “I have a feeling we are sort of a national bellwether.”

Holmes predicted the state swings in a slightly more Democratic direction in the future.

Red wave? There was an Iowa swing toward Republicans, but Hoffman said that wave was missing nationally. Tuesday’s results were surprising, not just because of the outcome but also because some of the down-ballot implications.

“This did not make us a red country. It made us a divided country,” Hoffman said.

The national picture is complicated. While Trump won the electoral vote, Clinton will win the popular vote by as many 2 million votes and more than 1.5 percentage points, according to the New York Times and other analyses.

The winning presidential ticket usually has coattails to add to the party’s base in Congress. That didn’t happen this time, Hoffman said.

Republicans will still control both the U.S. House and Senate, but by slimmer margins. Republicans are expected to lose two Senate seats and six House seats.

What’s next?

There are more post-mortems to come, especially since so few polls correctly predicted Trump’s win and his relatively large electoral margins. He could win as many as 306 electoral votes, where 270 are needed to win.

Democrats are looking at why things turned out the way they did. Republicans will do the same.

“It looks like … Hillary Clinton underperformed Barack Obama’s success in ‘12 and Trump outperformed Romney’s success, and that was the ballgame,” Hoffman said. She added the caveat that results are still pouring in and political scientists are still analyzing the results.

Stevens, meanwhile, is turning her attention back to school work. But she’ll continue working with the UNI College Republicans to reduce the “stigma” of being a Republican. And she’s still celebrating the incoming Trump presidency.

Though she was hopeful, Stevens saw the same polls as others did and heard the media often dismiss Trump. Now that Trump has won, she makes the same plea Trump and the outgoing Obama did; she hopes to see the country unify.

“I think people had such a bad idea of him, so if he can go out there and do what he said he’s going to do and really help everybody and just prove everybody wrong, that will be enough for me,” Stevens said.

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President proposes national broadband initiative

Jan 14, 2015

CEDAR FALLS — President Barack Obama praised Cedar Falls as a small town doing big things during his Wednesday stop at Cedar Falls Utilities to announce a new broadband proposal ahead of his State of the Union address next week.

Obama contrasted the city of Cedar Falls with most others throughout the country where there is no competition for broadband, slower Internet speeds and often higher prices.

“Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network,” Obama said. “Really smart thing you guys did.”

He said Cedar Falls, and a few other cities in the United States, were “guinea pigs” for the rest of the country when it comes to providing better Internet services. Obama put Cedar Falls in the company of the likes of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.

“That’s the company you’re keeping,” Obama said of the quality of Internet services being offered in Cedar Falls.

The president held up Cedar Falls as an example because it offers Internet speeds 100 times faster than the national average.

CFU has been lauded for its efforts to expand access to high-speed Internet. Last year CFU began offering 1 gigabit per second Internet service, a goal of cities across the country as a spur to economic development. CFU was recognized by Google as a “2014 eCity” in October.

The president spoke for about 20 minutes at CFU and was in Waterloo and Cedar Falls for a total of about 90 minutes. He received a demonstration about fiber optics splicing, led by CFU Communications Services Manager David Schilling, a few minutes before taking to the stage.

The crowd was estimated to be about 205 people.

Though the president announced specifics of his proposals to enhance and expand broadband throughout the country, he focused on the need for better, faster and more reliable Internet connections.

“In this age of innovation and technology, so much of the prosperity that we’re striving for, so many of the jobs that we want to create, depend on our digital economy,” Obama said.

Obama said better broadband is no longer a luxury. He said his intiatives — which are market-based and do not require congressional action — are meant to help businesses, not so Americans can stream Netflix faster or load Facebook’s news feed better.

“This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy,” Obama said.

Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews said he was proud of Cedar Falls and that the president’s visit will be good publicity for the city.

“This is good for attracting companies that have higher wages for technical positions,” Crews said. “Obviously to be recognized by Google and the president of the United States in two months time is pretty awesome.”

While several residents took pictures of the president’s motorcade or waved as it went by, there were some protesters holding signs urging the president to support the Keystone XL pipeline and to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The Black Hawk County Republicans welcomed the president to Cedar Falls and thanked him for highlighting CFU while urging him to resist additional regulations on the Internet.

Obama began his remarks by praising the University of Northern Iowa’s top 25 basketball team and wishing he could stop for a beer at The Pump Haus like he did during his last visit to Cedar Falls.

“It’s good to be back,” Obama said.

Obama arrived and departed on Air Force One at the Waterloo Airport. He exited the plane with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-2nd District.

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Pilot program aims to be a bridge out of poverty

Nov 29, 2015

WATERLOO — Money matters are not usually a topic for discussion among acquaintances gathering for a meal.

But twice a week, one group gets together to have a conversation about how to get ahead instead of just getting by.

“It turns into one big family. Nobody puts nobody down. Nobody feels like they’re better than anybody else. We’ve still got work to do, but we’ve got weapons now too,” said Avery Norman, a member of the group.

The 17 diners are a part of a pilot program called Getting Ahead in the Cedar Valley. The nine-week course based on the work of poverty expert Ruby Payne aims to help lift people out of poverty.

The tools they’ll use are simply agency, determination, strength in numbers and a little practical knowledge.

Halfway through the course, Norman is not alone in praising the program. But he is probably its most vocal advocate.

That’s because without the program, Norman is certain he’d be homeless.

Norman paid rent, but a mix-up led his landlord to say he hadn’t. The old Norman would have lost the money and stayed at the Salvation Army. The new Norman, with his agency, made his case and kept his place.

“I can breathe. I can stand up. Before I’d let them run me over,” Norman said. “Without the (program’s) book, I would have been homeless.”

The seeds of the Getting Ahead in the Cedar Valley program germinated about a year ago. A group of activists heard Payne speak at a local event last spring and knew about a United Way Community Needs Assessment from 2013 that concluded poverty is the root cause of many of the community’s human needs.

The Rev. George Karnik, Carole Freking and Tom Marrah recruited a couple of additional members for an advisory board. They secured funding for the pilot program. Now they have a waiting list for the next nine-week course.

The program provides child care and a meal so the participants can spend five hours a week, in two meetings, focused on how to improve their financial situation. There are no teachers; facilitators offer guidance. Participants are not students, but investigators looking into their own financial world and how they can manage it.

That means changes are personal decisions, like when Cindy Ireland decided to shop for better car insurance.

“I think the first week gave me hope, and the second week gave me motivation,” Ireland said.

“The second week I changed insurance, and I’m paying less than half the deductible. I don’t know how it works, but it makes you move forward.”

For Merline Causey, the program has led to a job interview, if not yet a job. She and Norman have been utilizing the local Iowa Workforce Development center to learn common computer programs and gain other skills.

Causey said it’s important to make the effort, in part to help dismantle the notion people living in poverty aren’t working to improve their situation.

Participants not only spend 45 hours in the program, they do homework and consult their workbook throughout the week.

They stress the many reasons people fall into poverty. They know better than most how illness, job loss, divorce or escaping abuse can lead to dire financial straits. Many also know they’ve made mistakes along the way.

But for each, it’s important to find that bridge out of poverty the program aims to help them build.

“Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice,” said Rachel Oddoye. “My goal is to get from asking for help to giving help as much as I can.”

The advisory board can use all the help it can get. Volunteers are needed to provide meals and child care during the twice-weekly meetings. Mentors can work with graduates of the program to help them implement plans. Donations are welcome through the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa at

People who want to get involved or who want to participate in the program can email Marrah at or call him at 243-5396.

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Now-grown Waterloo childhood immigrant takes on Rep. King

Aug 20, 2014

WATERLOO — Monica Reyes’ mother held onto every memento of her daughter’s achievements over the years. Especially anything with a clear location or date on it.

A mother’s pride, in part. But the documents — squirreled away in a suitcase — also had a specific purpose, serving both as hope and as evidence.

On June 15, 2012, that suitcase full of perfect attendance awards, school forms, immunization records and even mailed letters finally served its purpose. On that day, President Barack Obama’s administration announced it would bypass Congress and launch Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

DACA exempts many undocumented immigrants who arrived as children from deportation for a renewable two-year period.

The enduring hope Reyes and her sister Nilvia, who were brought to the United States from Mexico at ages 3 and 1, respectively, could ultimately earn legal status was finally achieved later in 2012.

Thanks to the long-held documents and much determination, both young women filed the paperwork and received DACA status so they are no longer in the country illegally.

With that protection from deportation in place, Reyes, now 23 and living in Waterloo, is ready to share her story.

“I was brought here illegally when I was little, 3 years old. I came from a very, very bad family,” she said. “My father was extremely abusive, so much so that he almost killed my mother. So, at the time, we had no family in Mexico, so we had to migrate to the United States and joined the little bit of family we did have.”

That story is important to Reyes not just because it is hers, but because it paints a picture. A picture of a human being worthy of dignity, of an ambitious millennial and a nearly All-American upbringing.

She made that opening statement — one of her first public testimonials — last week in front of a skeptical audience: U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has called DACA lawless, supported an effort to end DACA as part of an immigration bill and has made colorful statements about undocumented immigrants.

The resulting video, from a town hall meeting in New Hampton, where Reyes was raised from eighth grade, was released by the DREAM Action Coalition, a national group that lobbies for undocumented youths, to highlight King’s stance on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The video shows only King at his podium, with an off-camera Reyes sharing her and her family’s history for nearly 2 1/2 minutes.

At 1 1/2 minutes, King asks her to speed it along, but he says she can talk to him on the phone afterward if she’s interested. A minute later, he cuts her off.

“You’re done. I ask you politely to stop,” he says, turning away. “So, we’re going to go to another question.”

Reyes told The Courier she shared her back story to challenge King’s perceptions about undocumented immigrant children. She also wanted to ask him, once he heard her history, if she deserved to be deported.

“We want to show his decision affects real people. It’s real lives he’s going to be playing with,” Reyes said a few days after her encounter with King.

Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition made news with his own confrontation with King. He said Reyes’ comments to King highlight the mission of the coalition: to put a human face on the issue of undocumented immigrants. The group tries to respectfully confront many politicians on the issue, not just King.

He added, “It’s easy for them to just take a vote in Washington, D.C., or make a speech on TV, including Congressman King.”

For Reyes, the immigration debate is not about partisan politics but about families.

“If he’s really a family man, you’d think he’d be a little more understanding with immigration. Does he really want to break up families?” she said of King.

Reyes began addressing King in New Hampton by noting that she respects King’s right to his own opinion and even praises him for always standing up for his beliefs. She is less kind after her face-to-face encounter.

“He completely disregarded me as if I wasn’t even human,” she says now. “He’s just this man that assumes the worst about Hispanics.”

A spokesman for King did not respond to several requests for comment.

Reyes is angry about King’s 2013 statement most undocumented youths are drug smugglers with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” She said the reality is they’re going to school or working or both.

Though Reyes is new to activism, she has long advocated Hispanic people’s rights in their communities. She said she started as a teenager in New Hampton after seeing the unjust way many Hispanics were treated during traffic stops.

Once she had DACA, she began to make her story part of her advocacy. Through her and her sister’s Facebook group Iowa Dreamers, their story has helped others with practicalities of DACA and inspired others to achieve more.

“Some people live mad at the world because of the status they’re in. … I cherish it,” Reyes says.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy to get where she is today.

Before DACA, Reyes worked 75 hours a week at minimum wage jobs to try to make ends meet and put herself through college.

She saw the DREAM Act — or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — fail. It would have provided a pathway to citizenship, which DACA doesn’t. She has watched comprehensive immigration reform stall in Congress.

While Reyes will continue to advocate for reform, the benefits of DACA have been priceless.

Now she has an Iowa driver’s license to get to and from work. Her job makes it easier to pay for classes and helped her put a down payment on a house.

“I’m living the American Dream now since I’ve gotten DACA. It really has improved my life a lot,” Reyes said recently after finishing her work day. “God forbid it’s repealed.”

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IJH runaway talks about impact of closure

Aug 20, 2014

WATERLOO — Seventeen-year-old Lyric Stier ran away from home shortly after her early discharge from the Iowa Juvenile Home just ahead of the facility’s closure in January.

Still on the run, the Marshalltown teen said she would turn herself in “in a minute” if the facility were to reopen as a Polk County judge ordered Wednesday.

“What?! That’s awesome! I mean if it reopened and that means that I would go back there if I turned myself in, then I’d be there in a minute,” Lyric wrote in a Facebook message.

Lyric shared her views via a chat with The Courier on her mobile phone earlier this week.

She remains with friends. She reached out to former juvenile home employees and supporters because she believes the home should not have closed, and she says the staffers were among the best she had worked with.

“When I had a struggle or I needed someone, I could reach out to them and I still do,” Lyric said. “Right now if IJH was still open I wouldn’t be on the run. I’d be there with my family, the people I trust and the people that mean the world to me.”

Whether the home will reopen is an open question. Gov. Terry Branstad asked the Iowa Supreme Court on Friday afternoon to overturn the ruling by District Court Judge Scott Rosenberg. Democratic senators are also separately pushing legislative action that would reopen the facility and better define its mission.

Lyric is one of two girls who have run away since the Iowa Department of Human Services began discharging youths from the juvenile home last July.

The department began moving youths from the facility following reports of abuse. Though the staff received training following the incidents and the involved staffers were fired, the discharges continued. On Dec. 9, Branstad ordered the facility closed by mid-January, and the final young woman was discharged the day before the home shut down.

DHS officials released a report at the request of Iowa lawmakers Monday that showed the status of the discharged youths. Of the 50 there last July, 16 had been sent home.

For Lyric, home was to one of the worst environments possible.

She said her juvenile court officer ordered her to go to the facility after she ran from her most recent placement in Bremwood Residential Treatment Center. Lyric said she was placed in the system after her mother pressed charges after the teen took her mother’s car without permission.

Lyric said when she was sent home, she started arguing with her mother again and had the added stress of her father trying to reconnect with her after years of his drug abuse.

She said that environment caused her to feel like it was either “fight or flight.”

Lyric chose flight.

Her description of what happened next is a more colorful version of the details described in the DHS report about the status of the runaways.

“One child, who was adjudicated delinquent, was placed at home and the court closed the case which ended the state’s jurisdiction,” according to the report.

“We were notified by another state per our standard procedures established in the Interstate Compact on Juveniles and local law enforcement that the child had run away and been detained. We are aware of the particulars of this situation and have done what we can to arrange for the child’s return; however we are aware that the child has run away again. Please be assured that we continue to contact appropriate local law enforcement with any information we learn about the child’s situation,” the report adds.

Lyric said she “went traveling” with some friends, which took her to South Carolina and New York before they ran out of gas in Ohio. With no options, she said, they turned themselves in. She spent a week in detention before getting a bus ride home through an organization that helps youths.

The bus took her to Cedar Rapids, and she “missed” her connection back to Marshalltown. Instead another friend came to get her.

“I just honestly don’t wanna go home cause I know it’s gonna be hell and not going to be a good place for me to be,” Lyric said.

She has friends and family she can stay with until she figures out her next steps.

Lyric said she was due to be discharged from the Iowa Juvenile Home in January, but the closure meant she was sent home Dec. 20, which was also her graduation day.

Though she would have been discharged soon after graduation, Lyric said, it would have been better for her to have a slower transition.

“I might have been able to have more help before I went home so that it actually went smoothly or I might have been able to think more about independent living too,” Lyric said.

The other juvenile runaway, according to the DHS report, remains missing. The child was a child in need of assistance with delinquency charges pending.

The child was discharged from the facility and sent home following completion of a 30-day evaluation. Five months after that, the child ran away.

“The department will continue to coordinate with local law enforcement. The child is listed as a missing person and there is a pick up order,” according to the report.

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GOP donors nationwide give to Iowa

Feb 23, 2014

WATERLOO — Donors from more than 20 states contributed $500 or more apiece to the cause of electing a second Republican to the U.S. Senate from Iowa.

Those donations came in during the final quarter of last year and were included in the six candidates’ year-end financial reports. The fundraising totals already have been released an analyzed, but an in-depth look at the donors highlights another difference between the candidates.

While the Republican U.S. Senate candidates may have similar philosophies and political stances, their donor lists reveal different strategies to getting the nomination in the June 3 primary.

Most of the candidates are welcoming out-of-state dollars in an effort to be in the best position to take on the Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley in the general election. The seat is open after U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said last year that he would not seek a sixth term.

Republican candidate Joni Ernst, a Red Oak state senator, saw about 80 percent of her donations of $500 or greater coming from Iowans in the final quarter. Her third-quarter fundraising effort saw a nearly even split between Iowa and out-of state dollars, with about 43 percent coming from outside Iowa.

But within the out-of-state donors, Ernst has attracted attention from some high-profile activists.

Following Ernst’s attendance at a seminar put on by Charles and David Koch last year, she has attracted donors affiliated with the Koch brothers’ network of political connections.

Ernst received a scant $4,500 — out of $202,744 raised — from donors with affiliations with the right-leaning libertarian Koch brothers during the most recent filing. But she has previously gotten more than $20,000 from influential figures with ties to a meeting put on by the brothers.

The names of donors with ties to the Koch brothers’ network was made public earlier this month by left-wing magazine Mother Jones, which published an attendee list that was left behind after a recent conference. The brothers’ wealth from their petroleum industry company, Koch Industries, has allowed them to wield influence in the right-wing political realm.

Ernst’s donations during the final quarter from the affiliates include an office furniture company owner in Michigan, the founder of a nanotechnology laboratory in Texas and John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s International pizza chain.

Schnatter has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, which Ernst regularly calls “Bruce Braley’s Obamacare,” and favors repealing the legislation.

Derek Flowers, a spokesman for Ernst’s campaign, said Ernst is an attractive candidate who is able to attract interest both within the state and outside it. He attributes her successful fundraising to the fact that she is a proven conservative and interest in electing the first female combat veteran to the U.S. Senate.

A press release announcing her fundraising totals for the year-end notes Ernst has been able to secure donations from individuals in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

While Ernst is the only candidate attracting donors affiliated with the Koch brothers, she is not alone in getting large donations from out-of-state donors.

More than half of Republican candidate Mark Jacobs’ final quarter donations greater than $500 came from Texans. Texans who sent $500 or more also supplied nearly double the amount Jacobs received from Iowans sending $500 or greater.

After Iowa, Texas donors supplied the next greatest contribution to Iowa’s Senate candidates. But 90 percent of those donations went to Jacobs.

Alissa Ohl, a spokeswoman for Jacobs, said it will take the ability to raise money on a national scale to compete with the “liberal special interest” dollars that will fund Braley’s Democratic campaign. Jacobs raised $400,000 in the final quarter, more than the other candidates, though Ernst has more cash-on-hand.

Jacobs also donated to his own campaign, giving more than $320,000 in in-kind donations and another $200,000 in loans.

Jacobs, a former Houston-based energy executive, received thousands from fellow Texas-based energy executives. Despite his ties to the energy industry, Jacobs supports the renewable fuel standard.

Republican candidate Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney now in private practice in Des Moines, likewise received many of his donations from fellow attorneys. More than 40 percent of his donations of $500 or more came from out of state.

Whitaker trails Ernst in Jacobs in both his final quarter figures and his total cash on hand.

Republican candidate Sam Clovis, a professor in Sioux City, received less than half of his $70,000 in the final quarter from people who contributed $500 or more. About 70 percent of his donations of $500 or more came from Iowans, many from people who live near his northwest corner of the state.

Republican candidate Scott Schaben is the only Republican U.S. Senate candidate to get all of his $500 or greater donations in the fourth quarter from Iowans, though he only had four donations of $500 or more.

Republican candidate Paul Lunde filed a letter with the Federal Election Commission saying that he had “reached neither of the thresholds that would require” him to file a year-end report.

Despite the outside influence on the Republican Senate primary, more than half of the receipts of $500 or more were from Iowans. Of the 360 donors from 24 states and Washington, D.C., who gave $500 or more to the five candidates in the fourth quarter, 205 are Iowans.

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Denver family worries ‘medically fragile’ boy will suffer under plan

June 25, 2017

WATERLOO — Hans Froyum Roise is a lot like most 6-year-olds. He plays with his siblings. He just completed kindergarten. And he can fall asleep just about anytime, anywhere.

But if he does that last one without a ventilator, he could die.

Hans has a rare condition called congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, or CCHS, which means his nervous system doesn’t perform some functions most do automatically, like breathing. He travels everywhere with a ventilator, and wears it each night since breathing is a particular worry when he sleeps.

Because Hans’ condition makes him “medically fragile,” parents Adam and Carissa Froyum Roise qualify for some Medicaid benefits as a secondary insurance. They worry the proposed changes to health care at the federal level could have significant impact on their coverage.

“It’s very challenging when you have a child with a life-threatening or a very serious medical condition when other layers of uncertainty are added to your life,” said Carissa Froyum Roise. “Because you depend on, in our case, nursing and medical equipment to keep our child alive, and it’s up in the air.

“We don’t know what will happen. We don’t know if those services will be available, and those are the services that allow sick kids to live in their homes versus being in an institution.”

Senate bill

Republicans have been promising to “repeal and replace Obamacare” — the federal Affordable Care Act — for seven years. But because its namesake was president until this year, efforts had failed.

Few knew how “repeal and replace” would look until this spring. The U.S. House passed a bill May 4 and the Senate unveiled a draft bill Thursday.

A review of the House proposal by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the Medicaid program would be cut by $834 billion over the next 10 years. The review of the Senate proposal could come out this week.

Headlines about the Senate proposal described “deep cuts” to the Medicaid program that helps keep Hans healthy and at home. About 23 percent of Medicaid’s enrollees are elderly or have disabilities, but they use about 63 percent of expenditures.

AARP Iowa found in a survey released last week 79 percent of Iowa voters 50 and older oppose cutting Medicaid. A national study by Lutheran Services of America found 70 percent agree the program is good for the country, and its health care for those with disabilities the most popular aspect, at 85 percent support.

While some lawmakers — including U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa — have said the bill will aim to protect Medicaid recipients who have disabilities, health experts say those protections won’t matter much if dollars are not there to support programs.

Medicaid services

The Froyum Roises acknowledge they would fare better under the Republican plan to cap Medicaid spending. Their main insurance would still pay for many of Hans’ needs, like his overnight nurse.

But many services he gets through Medicaid — like a personal school nurse and air conditioning in the summer that makes it safer to go to class. Such things help him more fully participate in the community.

If those go away, one of Hans’ parents might have to quit work. Adam is a family physician, and Carissa is a professor.

“Having in-home nursing is much, much, much less expensive than repeated trips to the hospital, and for us, that’s what nursing does, it keeps our kid out of the hospital,” Carissa Froyum Roise said.

Adam Froyum Roise said Hans has been to the emergency room just once, and has only been admitted to the hospital for planned visits. His parents say Hans has a milder case of the condition and is generally healthy.

But when he does fall ill, Medicaid allows his school nurse to stay with him at home so his parents can work. They sometimes need to use sick time to care for their other children, Isak, 8, and Linnea, 4.

State choices

Because the bill has not yet been enacted, no one knows how many fears families will realize.

The current bill aims to cap the Medicaid program per enrollee in each state, with a yet-to-be-determined rate of inflation. Grassley said during a call with Iowa reporters last week the details are still being worked out, but current Medicaid funding to states is not “fiscally responsible.”

There’s concern the money will not keep up with costs. States would be left to spend more or — more likely — reduce benefits.

While some Medicaid benefits are mandated by the federal government, the state has options to do more. Many benefits the Froyum Roises depend on are considered optional.

“Given that the state has made what I would consider some pretty bad decisions about Medicaid within the last couple years, I don’t feel like they have been great stewards of our program through the privatization,” Carissa Froyum Roise said. “When money is going to companies instead of caring for kids so they can stay in their homes, that’s a problem.”

Carissa notes her family has had fewer impacts than others over the state’s Medicaid privatization. But they witnessed firsthand the frustration when they recently went through a recertification process. Hans was initially denied, despite having a incurable and ongoing medical condition.

The Froyum Roises say the benefits Hans gets have a measurable impact on his health and their quality of life.

Staying active

The Froyum Roises have been writing letters to their lawmakers and attended the town hall U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-1st District, held in Cedar Falls shortly after the American Health Care Act passed the U.S. House.

But so far they said they haven’t received any clarity about what the future holds for their family and others like them.

They keep up on latest news through the professional organizations Adam is involved in and through a network of CCHS families. Still, they feel like they arein the dark because of the secrecy that shrouded the Senate bill until Thursday.

But they will remain strong advocates for the program that has done so much for them.

“We are extremely blessed. His condition is manageable because we have Medicaid. It would be utterly and entirely overwhelming (without it), and it breaks families apart,” Carissa Froyum Roise said. “Our family is intact. We have jobs. Hans has a wonderful life. His siblings get to have a life, because we have excellent medical care.”

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A month after IWD offices close, computer stations see little usage.

October 2, 2011

MOUNT PLEASANT – Vatema Johnson needed help, and she came to the right place.

To keep her utilities on, the 24-year-old woman had to get a wage verification document in person from an Iowa Workforce Development staff member. So she rode her bicycle 1 1/2 miles to the Fellowship Cup, 203 N. Jefferson St., in downtown Mount Pleasant, where she’d gotten help with unemployment benefits before.

But between her two visits to the facility, the once-a-week staff person was reduced to only a computer with an IWD software program, which can’t help with the service Johnson needs. The staff person, who manned the site until mid-August, represented another reduction for the office. The IWD at 207 E. Monroe St. used to have two staff people available each week day. It closed June 28.

“They need to put it back out here … because they make it very inconvenient for people who don’t have cars,” Johnson said after learning of the IWD office closures and lack of staff availability. “They leave you in a stuck situation.”

Johnson, who does not have a car and has been working temporary jobs since arriving in Mount Pleasant nearly two years ago, said it was inconsiderate to close the offices, especially when some services require an in-person visit.

Johnson is not alone in her frustration. Thirty-one offices were shuttered over the summer, and another five are scheduled to be closed by the end of this month.

IWD began its transition from 55 offices to 16 one-stops with hundreds of computer access points using the department’s software July 28 after Republican Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed additional funding lawmakers provided in an effort to keep all offices open.

While the department has 209 access points with almost 700 computers, that’s not all it seems.

Seeking access

Getting to an IWD virtual access point is easy, in theory.

If one finds a computer, it doesn’t mean the access point is up and running or that it’s clear where documents can befound within the department’s website,

God’s Way Christian Center, 1629 Des Moines St., in Keokuk, is listed as a virtual access point, but secretary Dixie Howell said while the computer is set up, it awaits a wireless card to make it compatible for the IWD software.

“We’re waiting on job services to send a wireless card, so it could be years,” Howell said of when she expects the virtual access point to be operational.

The Keokuk library, 210 N. Fifth St., is purchasing its own wireless card to get its access point ready for public use. In the meantime, however, the software is set up on one of the public computers.

“We’re happy to do it, but it’s taking a little bit of tweaking,” said Monica Winkler, Keokuk library business manager.

Fort Madison’s library, which is listed as an access point, had the software running, but staff had to reinstall an operating system on the computers, which means it must reinstall the IWD software. That’s expected some time this week.

For those sites that are operational, there can be other hitches. The computers may not be turned on, which can throw off those who are not savvy with technology, and some locations don’t have the required user names and passwords.

All sites are using the same user name of “access” and the password of “myaccess,” on the domain IWDNTDOM, but the staff may or may not be aware of that. If not, there’s little one can do.

If one finds the site, many of which are marked by an “Iowa Works Access Point” sign, and it is in working order with the password displayed, once logged in, the site is fairly easy to navigate. Users are greeted with a screen showing four options:

  • I am a job seeker;
  • I am unemployed;
  • I am a veteran; or
  • I am an employer.

From there, clicking on links should get users to the help they need. Technical assistance is available by calling (800) 397-3431, and business cards are available at most sites with local contact information if people have other needs.

Underused sites

IWD spokeswoman Kerry Koonce said the data on the usage at access points is not being released yet, as the department works out kinks in the system to ensure the information coming in is calculated correctly. She expects that will be available in the next 30 to 45 days.

“We’ve only been 30 days with the access points really up and running. It’s kind of hard for people to make that comparison yet,” Koonce said of how well used the sites are. “The data that I’m showing says over 16,000 services have been done on the access points, but … I can’t say that I know it’s comparing it apples to apples yet, and that’s what we’re checking.”

Both the toll-free number and live chat have been heavily used. She said the latter especially has been used on Saturdays when the offices are not open.

Since it’s been less than a month since the offices have closed, Koonce said it’s too soon to calculate whether there’s been an increase in in-person visits at the sites that remain open during September. She expects the data to be available in mid-October.

Staff working at the access points across the region reported limited to no usage at the computer terminals since the software was installed.

“It’s set up on all our computers,” said Donnellson’s assistant librarian Gayle Austin. “We haven’t had anybody use them yet.”

Mediapolis Library Director Kim Earnest said the system is set up on all five patron-access computers, but no one has come in to use it yet.

Judy Asher, a receptionist at Louisa Community Action, doesn’t think most people realize their site is an access point.

“We’ve had occasional people use it, because when they come in, we let them know that it’s here,” Asher said, adding she’s not sure how helpful the services are.

The Keokuk library and Fellowship Cup had a staff person on site for a short period, as the nearby IWD offices transitioned to being officially closed, before they became solely access points. Keokuk Library Director Emily Rohlfs said residents made use of the staff while they were there.

“We had so much traffic. It really helped our numbers,” Rohlfs said, adding that after staff left on Aug. 31, the library still saw people coming in looking for help who were disappointed there was no one available. Neither Winkler nor Rohlfs were aware of how much, if any, traffic came through to use the IWD access point.

A Fellowship Cup staff member said the site has seen occasional visits for people looking for work and estimated it was two to three per week.

Personal issues

Johnson, the unemployed Mount Pleasant resident, said the lack of access is worse for people who have do not have phones, as her best hope is to call the Burlington one-stop office that remains open and see if the wage verification document could be faxed somewhere in Mount Pleasant.

That hope may soon be dashed, as IWD spokeswoman Koonce said everyone needs to get the wage verification document in person, as it contains personal information that requires staff to verify the clients’ identification.

“I know that for people this seems like a change, but they have to remember we had 55 offices in 53 counties; that means 46 counties have never had an office anyway, so they’ve already been making trips to the offices and stuff. So it’s not like this is a new thing,” Koonce said, adding in today’s world people should want the added security of in-person ID verification before someone would give out personal information.

In-person help

Since the office closures, the IWD staff locally reported anecdotally they’ve seen an increase in visitors to their Burlington and Fort Madison offices, as well as a noticeable uptick in phone calls.

The closures of the Mount Pleasant and Keokuk offices have not resulted in the loss of any staff. The two Mount Pleasant office employees retired, and the three Keokuk staff have so far moved into the Burlington office, while the department works out staffing issues due to the closures across the state.

Still, the increases in calls and foot traffic has been a strain on staff at the remaining sites. To make up for increased traffic at the Fort Madison office, staff have increased hours. Now, residents can get aid starting at 8 a.m., instead of 8:30 a.m.

The increase in phone calls to the one-stop in Burlington has resulted in as much as a day’s delay in getting back to people who have left messages.

To address these newfound deficits, Iowa Works Region 16 Director Deb Dowell said there’s an effort under way to engage the jobless in the community.

“We’re kind of putting together a regional team to come up with a strategic plan,” Dowell said. That plan will include publicly announcing where and when computer literacy and other workforce training courses will be offered to provide consistency and structure to help people. “We’re trying to bring together a group for Lee County, first, is what we’re going to focus on.”

Lee County typically has had the highest or near the highest unemployment in the state. The unemployment rate for August was 10.0, which was second to Hamilton County at 11.1 percent.

She said staff is setting up monthly computer literacy training courses. The first are expected this month, though a date has yet to be set.

In the meantime, people like Mount Pleasant’s Johnson will struggle to find work to provide for her 2-year-old daughter and seek help at computer stations in lieu of in-person aid.

“It’s hard finding a job and stuff,” Johnson said, adding most jobs pay just minimum wage. “Nobody can live off of that nowadays.”

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Des Moines County has among highest rates per capita in Iowa.

April 29, 2012

STDs cost US health care system $17 BILLION every year & cost patients even more in immediate & long term health consequences #CDCchat

Stigma, inconsistent/incorrect condom use & barriers to health care contribute to high rates of STDs among teens & young adults. #CDCchat

Young people between 15 and 24 years account for nearly half of all STD cases. #CDCchat

– Selected tweets from @DrFriedenCDC during an online chat last week.

Tom Frieden is director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They’re not easy words to say, sexually transmitted diseases. Try saying them aloud, and in front of others: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis.

They’re not easy to say because we’re not comfortable talking about sex, with our partners or to our children. We speak in innuendo or worse, let our kids learn phrases and cobble together ideas about sex from “Jersey Shore” or television advertisements.

But nationwide, the growing rates of some sexually transmitted infections are a conversation officials say people need to be having. And southeast Iowa is no exception.

Tom Frieden’s tweets may seem alarming, but STDs – and specifically chlamydia – are an increasing problem for Iowa youth, particularly those in Des Moines County.

Des Moines and Scott counties lead the state in cases per capita of both chlamydia and gonorrhea. According to CDC data from 2010, the most recent information available, both counties have greater than 3,000 cases of chlamydia per 100,000, and greater than 600 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000.

In plain numbers, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, Des Moines County had 298 cases of the three reportable diseases in 2010, 253 of them were chlamydia. According to other IDPH data, there were 541 reportable STD cases in 2009 and 2010.

Rates for chlamydia have been increasing steadily for the past decade, and IDPH STD prevention program manager George Walton said it actually stretches back for the past two decades.

According to an IDPH report, there has been a 67 percent increase in chlamydia cases between 1997 and 2007. There were about 5,000 cases in 1997. Ten years later, there were 8,643, and the numbers have risen since. In 2010, there were 10,542 cases.

“It’s an epidemic, and I think we’re making some progress,” said Paula Laube, a Planned Parenthood of the Heartland senior clinician in Iowa City and physician assistant. “I think it’s going to take a lot of education.”

She said that means a willingness to offer sex education in junior high schools and high schools and removing the stigma.

Just the facts

Walton points to expanded screening and more sensitive testing methods as one of the biggest reasons for the increasing rates of chlamydia.

He said chlamydia rates started to rise about the same time testing methods improved, which has been especially true in the past five to seven years.

“I believe that the biggest reason is because we’ve actually gone out of our way to increase screening, especially in target populations,” Walton said.

Screening is important so providers can find people who have been infected but who may not know it. While words like discharge or burning come to mind, many men and women have no symptoms and, therefore, have few hints they may be infected.

Walton said about half of men with chlamydia may not have symptoms, and between 70 and 90 percent of women with the sexually transmitted infections may not have symptoms. The CDC estimates 50 percent of chlamydia infections and 40 percent of gonorrhea infections are undetected each year.

The reinfection rate in Iowa, in 2008, was 11 percent for chlamydia and gonorrhea.

And just because there are no symptoms with the diseases doesn’t mean there are no problems. Untreated, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility, among other problems. That’s why Walton and the CDC recommend young and at-risk people be screened regularly.

Walton sees regular screening for women younger than 26 as a way to decrease STD rates. While those in that age range comprise a quarter of those with sexual experience, they make up nearly half of all new STD cases, according to the CDC.

“It’s an ongoing struggle for the whole country. The cases of chlamydia, they just go up every year,” Walton said. “I feel like it’s because there are still so many people who are undiagnosed and untreated so it stays in the cycle.”

He said private providers are incorporating chlamydia screening into their annual exams. Walton said more frequent exams would help reduce the stigma attached to requesting tests from patients deemed the riskiest.

Walton said there’s no data on how many providers offer screening of STIs as a regular part of an exam, because the IDPH only learns about them when the practitioner reports a positive result.

Great River Medical Center family practitioner Michael AbouAssaly said the hospital does not screen every patient, but doctors and patients are encouraged to have regular conversations about sexual health.

He said it’s important to get annual exams, and maintain an open dialogue.

Why here? What now?

There’s no secret to what needs to be done to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections. So, why isn’t it sinking in to residents of Des Moines County?

Of course, while Des Moines County’s rates are high, they’re far from the highest in the state. The 253 cases of chlamydia in 2010 pale compared to the 2,076 in Polk County and 944 in Black Hawk County. But both have larger populations.

In counties with an average population of more than 20,000 but smaller than a micropolitan counties, Des Moines County has the highest for all STDs, according to IDPH data for 2009 and 2010. It has smaller numbers than nine of the micropolitan counties but larger than 11 of them.

Both Walton and AbouAssaly said a contributing factor is that the county ranks so low in overall health.

County Health Rankings webputs Des Moines County at 97th for all health factors. Two areas where it ranks lower, what both men consider significant, is the rate of poverty and low graduation rate.

“If you look at all those types of things that we track, it always correlates back to socioeconomic status, everything. Literally everything, high school drop-out rate, teen pregnancy rate, and unfortunately, we rank some of the highest in those,” AbouAssaly said. “Really, what it comes down to … the more you educate your population, the better, and that’s really what it takes.”

Walton also points to things like a higher population density in addition to those mentioned. Rather than identifying just socioeconomic status, though, Walton said it’s a combination of all of those things.

Walton also notes money from the federal and state government has declined, which means the IDPH focuses its energy on treatment, rather prevention like it has in the past.

State Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, said given the programs in the state that help poorer people get health care, he doesn’t believe there’s a lack of access, even if funds have been cut.

Laube said, however, while IDPH makes an effort, its cuts have made it underfunded and understaffed to the point where it doesn’t have the time for follow-ups with those identified with an STI.

“It’s just hard. We can’t follow up on everything,” Laube said.

Walton said, though, IDPH does offer something called partner services, which is where staff contact partners of people who test positive for reportable STDs. It is done automatically for patients 17 or younger, if they’re pregnant or if there has been a reinfection in the past year.

Otherwise, IDPH coordinates with the provider if partner services are necessary. The state also has offered something called expedited patient therapy, where a patient’s partner does not need to come in necessarily to get treated.

While partners are encouraged to schedule an appointment, if they won’t, they can get an extra treatment to take to his or her partner.

Since they don’t come in, however, the partner is not counted as part of the reported number of cases.

The Des Moines County Health Department does not offer STD testing. Walton said that’s not unusual, noting only four counties offer such clinics through their health department.

Like many places across the state, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in southeast Iowa is about the only resource to get tested and treated, outside a person’s primary care doctor.

Mary Kuster, a Planned Parenthood health educator in Burlington, said from the youth’s perspective, one of the reasons for the higher rates is they simply don’t know there is access to quality reproductive health care right here.

Starting the conversation

Some of the reasons behind the county’s higher STD rate are beyond an individual’s control. Fortunately, some of it is not.

The first thing to do is start a conversation. It may not be easy, but it’s within our control to talk with our partners or talk to our children by having an open and honest dialogue.

Laube, who has been with Planned Parenthood seven years but has worked in women’s health for 23 years, said having that conversation requires an awareness. That includes an awareness of the potential side effects of sex and taking precautions.

“All of us need to be talking to each other,” Laube said.

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December 7, 2008

Had it. Fought it. Survived it.

The words are stamped on the back of one of Paul Bell’s T-shirts.

“It” means his battle with kidney cancer 30 years ago, but the motto on a T-shirt he wore at a 2008 cancer walk could just as easily symbolize the 87-year-old Burlington man’s struggle to get compensated for working on Line 1 at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant.

Eight years after Congress signed the Energy Employment Occupational Illness Compensation Act, or EEOICPA, Bell continues working to make the case that he deserves compensation for health problems related to his work on the atomic energy line at IAAP.

“I feel that I could go on and on with additional information supporting my case, but I feel that the data I previously submitted to you, plus the additional information I am including in this letter, should let you reconsider denying my claim and approve it,” Bell wrote in his most recent appeal to a Department of Labor Final Adjudication Branch claims examiner.

Despite his difficulty handwriting each letter, Bell does so to add credibility to his pleas.

According to the Department of Labor’s Web site, the act allows the government to compensate the workers to the tune of $150,000, if they are eligible employees who suffered certain illnesses.

“When it first came out was back in (November) 2003,” Bell said of his application for compensation. “What I did is answer all of that when it came in, but I didn’t hear about it.”

He waited four years, without hearing a single word from the Department of Energy, which originally was assigned the task of doling out compensation to former workers on atomic energy lines.

It wasn’t until Laurence Fuortes, the University of Iowa Burlington Atomic Energy Commission Plant-Former Worker Program project director, sponsored an event June 2007 in Burlington, that Bell renewed his case.

“The University of Iowa is the one that believes I am deserving of all of this,” Bell said. “They just believe me 1,000 percent and they’ve been very, very good to me.”

In fact, Fuortes said Bell was one of the few former workers who had such an abundance of supporting documents that should make him eligible for compensation.

History lesson

After graduating high school in 1939, Bell first took a job with the Benner Tea Co., a grocery store at the time, earning $10 a week.

Within a couple years, he took a civil service exam to work at Iowa Ordnance Plant, which paid better.

He left during World War II to serve his country, a service which won him awards and an honorable discharge.

Bell returned to IOP, now known as IAAP, as a civilian Army employee after leaving the Army in 1946. It was around that time that work began to increase the United States’ atomic weapons supply.

In the 1950s, Bell gained a “Q” clearance at the plant, which gave him access to top secret information, and meant he spent a lot more time on Line 1.

“The reason why I had the clearance is because I had knowledge of how to make atomic bombs,” Bell said from his home at Rosebush Gardens Assisted Living.

His job as property administrator and chief of materials branch put all 19,000 acres of the plant under his control until the Atomic Energy Commission, later the Department of Energy, came in. Once the AEC arrived, he said he spent 90 percent of his time on Line 1.

Because of the nature of his work, Bell — who now has been married to Arline for 66 years — was not allowed to tell his wife or anybody else what he did, or that he worked for the AEC.

For about 17 years, he was exposed to beryllium, TNT, RDX and uranium, among other radioactive materials, high explosives and metals.

When asked, as part of an occupational history interview for the Department of Labor, whether there were times when he felt he should have been wearing protective equipment, he respond affirmatively.

In explaining his answer, he simply said, “Always wondered about it.”

Bell left the IAAP in 1962 to take a job with a Bureau of Naval Weapons plant in Anaheim, Calif.

Fighting his case

The Rocky Mountain News reported in July, as many have wondered throughout the years, that the Labor Department delayed cases of workers or their survivors by “giving misleading information, withholding records essential to their cases, failing to inform them of alternative paths to aid, repeatedly claiming to have lost evidence sent by ill workers and making requirements for compensation impossibly high.”

Bell knows too well some of these methods.

In seeking a memorandum of understanding that verifies his civilian work with the Army was contractually linked to the AEC and the plant’s contractors, he learned the document is either unavailable or has been destroyed.

The fact Bell is asked to find such evidence at least 45 years after being employed by IOP makes his quest for supporting documents that much harder to obtain. Plus, because he moved around after leaving IOP, he said some documents may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

“The statute of limitations is such that everything has been destroyed,” Bell said.

While he made no note of case workers claiming to lose evidence, he said repeatedly in letters to the Department of Labor that he has not received response to many of his letters and pieces of evidence.

Mostly, though, his concern is with the last technique of impossibly high requirements.

Bell received the recommended decision to deny his claim Sept. 17. The letter noted the denial is not final and Bell has a right to appeal, which he is doing.

The reason for the denial — after initially claiming he was not an employee at IAAP, despite letters from colleagues and performance reviews, among other evidence — is that as a civilian Army employee, he is not eligible for compensation.

The statement of the case reads that be potentially covered under Part B of the Act, “a person must have been employed at a DOE facility by an atomic weapons employer (AWE), or by a beryllium vendor, and have been diagnosed with a covered occupational illness under the Act.”

The letter makes reference to both an EEOICPA bulletin that lists reasons why Bell’s position could be considered eligible, as well as a 1963 Army document supposed to be a contract for services between the Army and the AEC at the Middletown plant.

Still, the Solicitor of Labor found this was not sufficient evidence.

“Because the condition did not obligate the Army to provide any specific services to the AEC, or any services at all, it cannot be considered by itself to be either a contract for the provision of services or evidence of a contractual business arrangement between the Army and the AEC for the provision of services,” the solicitor stated in the letter.

Had it

Both Bell and Fuortes, of the former worker program, see the denial for what it is.

“It really seems like the Department of Labor has an attorney who is sticking really to a very narrow definition of a contractual relationship, where courts in Iowa would typically say if you did the work and you were paid for it, that is a definition of a contractual relationship,” Fuortes said. “That’s the sticky wicket this man is stuck with.”

In fact, recent documents obtained by the University of Iowa program show evidence of several joint-use facilities, occupied by both the Army and AEC.

Bell also possesses a couple of his performance reviews that list his duties as related to the AEC. One review in the early 1960s states he had “knowledge of prime contract, AEC, and Army regulations, directives and manuals as pertains to property accountability and disposal.”

In an Oct. 3 letter back to the Department of Labor’s Final Adjudication Branch, Bell writes with the passion of someone fighting for only what he is owed for those services he provided all those years ago.

“I feel very strongly that the work I performed for the U.S. govt. USAEC was outstanding (see awards), and I know it was appreciated by a great many people and the whole United States,” Bell wrote by hand in all capital letters to be legible. “I feel fortunate that my physical health and medical condition, thanks to many physicians and medications, have let me still live.”

He went to say that many of his successors and colleagues are not as lucky.

Health conditions

Although Bell is grateful for his medical state at 87, he’s had his fair share of problems over the years.

“All the work I did with the atomic weapons affected my kidney,” Bell said. “I lost a kidney as a result of it.”

He mentions the renal cancer most because it’s one of the 22 cancers under a special exposure cohort granted to IAAP workers that automatically qualify an eligible worker to receive compensation.

The cancer, and subsequent kidney removal in 1978, also caused Bell to have a heart attack and stroke, within days of the surgery.

Four years before his surgeries — at age 52 — Bell retired from working at an Anaheim plant due to his worsening health.

He was granted disability retirement for problems related to psychological stress in September of 1974.

Over the years, he’s had about 25 treatments — including CAT scans for an aortic aneurysm — and seen about 75 different doctors in thousands of visits.

He currently takes nearly a dozen medications for his various conditions.

Like everyone else, Bell is also facing increased costs and worries about Social Security benefits, as he works to keep his and his wife’s health.

Still surviving

In even getting to the point where he could appeal his decision and be eligible for a hearing, Bell was required to jump through many hoops.

After denying his claim, Bell wrote an objection. The Final Adjudication Branch responded, telling Bell the office must receive any additional evidence within 20 days of the letter to him.

“These guys are smart,” Bell said. “They have smart lawyers, boy.”

The Department of Labor’s most recent correspondence with Bell notes that it received his request for a hearing to appeal his denial and one will be scheduled.

Bell said he planned to write a note back but allowed his University of Iowa case worker to send one on his behalf. Bell said his representative, Christina Nichols, demanded the hearing take place in person in Burlington.

As he waits for a final decision and his hearing — still surviving — Bell takes care of his 89-year-old wife and keeps in touch with his two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Twenty years after ADA, strides have been made but much work remains

August 8, 2010

When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, he put the legislation’s passage on par with the recent historically significant event of tearing down the Berlin Wall.

At the signing ceremony, Bush said it was like “a sledgehammer to another wall.” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who led the efforts as a freshman senator, remembers the president saying, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

Twenty years later, people with disabilities and their advocates remember the legislation’s passage as the end of invisibility.

“People that know me know that I’m out there all the time,” said Burlington resident Dan Carlson, 62, who is in a wheelchair. “Before that (legislation), it was kind of like I couldn’t go out without somebody else with me to get me upstairs and things like that.

“And I didn’t like asking people to drag me upstairs, so I didn’t get out a whole lot before that.”

While he’s quick to point out how far the legislation has yet to go for full equality, Carlson said the law has improved his life tenfold.

“The ADA has allowed us to show what we can do, and with allowing us to show what we can do, people are more comfortable with us,” said Carlson, who is an ADA trainer and helped spur Harkin to push for the law.

Carlson and Great Plains ADA Center Iowa coordinator Amy Desenberg-Wines said the ADA also made people with disabilities visible in school systems across the nation, something Harkin said has helped lead to a positive shift in attitudes about the handicapped.

“You have kids with disabilities mainstreamed in school now, and so that’s led to a whole new generation of young people who (for them) … it’s not a big deal,” Harkin said during a recent conference call with reporters.

After 20 years, the legislation’s impact is widespread, in both noticeable and unnoticeable ways. But at the time, the signing didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Under the headline of “Disabled cheer civil rights law,” the article on the signing ceremony – with 2,000 people in attendance, it was one of the largest at the time – ran on the front page of The Hawk Eye. But there was little other fanfare.

The local headlines that week were dominated by RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, that was making its way to Burlington. And the opinion page was full of debate over Bush’s recent Supreme Court nominee, the now-recently retired Justice David Souter.

Even Bush himself made a faux pas during the signing ceremony.

According to the Associated Press at the time, “Some activists suggested that the White House notion that the disabled people are too frail to sit out in the summer sun showed the very kind of bias the legislation was designed to end.”

Life to the fullest

Lake View Apartments residents Mike Mehler, 45, and Terri Miller, 51, are no strangers to the kind of discrimination that used to be rampant before the ADA.

Miller, who has Down syndrome, said she remembers growing up in Mount Pleasant when even some of her brother’s friends would make fun of her. She says now that she never told him because she wanted him to have friends.

Mehler, who has a learning disability, said slowly there has been progress and he is mostly treated better. But challenges remain.

As a leader of a Boy Scout troop for about 50 handicapped youth, Mehler said among the lessons he tries to teach the boys is to deal with discrimination.

“I just tell them … that people don’t mean to do it, and the best thing is for them to forget about it and move on,” said Mehler.

And in fact, both Mehler and Miller have lived by that advice. They, like Carlson, rarely let their disabilities get in the way of living life to the fullest.

Mehler has done RAGBRAI for the past 11 years and has nearly 6,000 miles logged on his bike. Miller has published a book of her poetry. Carlson nearly has done it all.

Despite being disabled in a hunting accident 37 years ago, Carlson has since gone out hunting both turkey and deer, as well as fishing on the river. He also plans on skydiving again soon.

“It’s nothing for me to go out and try something,” Carlson said. “I’ve always learned try anything once; try it a second time just because you might have done it wrong the first time.”

Carlson, who recently got over a three-year illness, said the only thing he hasn’t been able to do is go mushroom hunting. But that will soon change when a newly ordered wheelchair that will allow him to go off-road arrives at his doorstep.

“Since I’ve been in the chair, I’ve never let the chair stop me from doing what I want to do,” Carlson said. “Other people have sat back, and I haven’t.”

Both Carlson and Mehler also have done security at Burlington Steamboat Days, and Mehler also helps out with Snowbull.

Both Mehler and Miller also are collectors. Mehler has about 70 stuffed animals on display in his living room, with more in his bedroom, including a dozen Tiggers. His favorite, though, is a basset hound he calls Eric after a past roommate Eric Husel, who has passed away.

“He was like a big brother to me,” Mehler said.

Miller said she collects signatures from television celebrities. She’s also an avid reader of biographies on those celebrities and watches several TV series, especially mysteries and comedies.

The pair, who are neighbors and friends, also are close to their families and visit with various members regularly. And both are happily single.

“I get more out of life this way,” Miller said. “I really care a lot about people and care a lot about special needs people. My heart goes out to them. I can relate to that.”

Miller said it took her a long time to realize there were other people like her, and now that she has, she wants to help them as best she can. She also enjoys learning new things and is grateful to Mehler for his help in teaching her.

Room for improvement

Before there were ADA regulations, Carlson was an advocate for people with disabilities.

Carlson, who served on the city’s planning commission for seven years, said he used other laws that were available to them to get the Burlington council to agree to install elevators in a few city buildings.

He said at the time, he was criticized for the endeavor, with some saying it should be called the Dan Carlson elevator. Carlson remembers in particular one councilman who fought him on the effort and what happened 15 years later.

“I happened to be (at the council chambers) one day, and here he comes walking off the elevator because he couldn’t climb up the steps (due to a lung ailment); at that point, he was happy the elevator was there, but he fought me tooth and nail before that,” Carlson said.

Both Carlson and the ADA advocate Desenberg-Wines pointed out the benefits and expanded access that everyone has because of the 20-year-old law. Desenberg-Wines said design specifications are now more inclusive so that they are easier for everyone to use.

Carlson said people use ramps all the time without thinking that it’s a benefit for the handicapped. They also said that the legislation has been a benefit to Iowa’s many elderly people who may not be disabled but can use the benefits of the ADA to get around a little easier.

“You’d be surprised the number of people who can’t negotiate the stairs,” Carlson said.

Still, in almost every area, they and Mehler and Miller see room for improvement in the law.

Miller hopes people will treat the disabled better, and not take advantage of them, but she also wants to see more living spaces for people so that they can have the benefit of living independently as she does.

While buses are handicap accessible, Miller said there could be some improvement there as well, and not just with the sometimes long wait times.

“They need to try to help people with disabilities in the winter time; (the bus drivers) are not allowed to touch us at all, and they need to really do that,” Miller said. As a petite woman, she said she could use the help getting up the stairs in the winter time.

Since Mehler can get around just fine, though he admits getting older makes RAGBRAI harder each year, he’s more concerned about helping his disabled mother, who relies on a walker and a wheelchair for traveling longer distances.

Carlson said fully one-third of the businesses downtown have accessibility issues. He said he’s planning on bringing the issue forward in the near future, hoping that pushing one into action will spur the others to do the same.

Even with the strides, both Desenberg-Wines and Carlson said they’re often surprised by the ways in which businesses or public facilities try to accommodate the handicap but manage to fail at it anyway. Whether it’s a handicap ramp with a step at the bottom or a handicap bathroom that’s at the end of a long hallway dotted with obstructions, these advocates are always running into challenges for the disabled.

Both say, though, they really just want to see communities and businesses making strides in improving their accessibility, even if it’s a five-year or 10-year plan.

“I don’t want to go down there and bankrupt the city and say, ‘You have to do all this great big list of things, and then you have to have them done in three months.’ That would bankrupt the city,” Carlson said. “If I can point it out every once in awhile and they can change it every once in awhile, then I’m happy.”

Desenberg-Wines said she sees as part of the problem that able-bodied people make assumptions about their handicapped neighbors and community members that the reason they don’t do more is because they don’t want to. She said that makes it harder for able-bodied people to adjust for the handicapped.

She said a beach and a playground is not only a place that a handicapped person may want to visit but it also may be a disabled parent wanting to experience those things with his or her children.

“I think in the last 20 years, although we still have some evolution, there has been progress. I think there is a heightened awareness; people are paying more attention; people are trying to make improvements,” Desenberg-Wines said. “I think as people are more aware and as they see more (people with disabilities), it becomes more natural to say ‘We’re going to do this; can people with disabilities participate; is it accessible?'”

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