By Becci Reedus
Our politicians and policymakers will face many important decisions in the coming months. Now more than ever, those leaders need to hear from all of us about the issues impacting our community.
As executive director of The Crisis Center of Johnson County, one of my jobs is to educate our policymakers and the public about the needs of the people we serve. Our programs help thousands of people with diverse needs, but there are some common themes we see among our clients.
In the Food Bank program, an average household has at least one working adult and only a small fraction of Food Bank clients have no income at all. Food insecurity is closely interconnected with other factors, like child care, medical expenses, transportation and housing. More than three-quarters of Food Bank clients pay more than half of their income toward housing.
In the Emergency Assistance program, we see that a relatively small assist can help stabilize a family in crisis. In some limited circumstances, we can help clients with overdue rent or utilities of $100 or less. 97 percent of those families are able to maintain their housing. Keeping families in their homes is absolutely crucial to their health and productivity — homelessness sets off a chain of events that is extremely difficult to recover from.
And in our Crisis Intervention programs, we are working to fill the gaps in Iowa’s mental health care system. Many of our clients have health insurance, but the care they need still isn’t affordable or isn’t available in their area. We partner with local government, law enforcement and other service agencies to help those in need before their issues lead to violence.
Lawmakers in Des Moines and Washington D.C. will consider legislation that will have a major impact on The Crisis Center’s clients — the Affordable Care Act, state mental health funding, the minimum wage and nutrition assistance, just to name a few.
One thing I hope all our policymakers realize is that prevention almost always ends up being cheaper than treatment. If we invest in working families and community nonprofits today, we will see savings in the future because we’ll have more stable families, and fewer individuals experiencing chronic problems that prevent them from learning and working.
Consider the minimum wage as one example — the Iowa Policy Project estimates at least 10,000 workers in Johnson County are benefiting from the local minimum wage increase and most of them are of parenting age. Health care is another example — according to the Center for Policy and Budget Priorities, about 230,000 Iowans would lose care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, leaving them vulnerable to long-term, compounding medical issues.
The Crisis Center’s clients are your neighbors, customers, students and more. They are integral to our economy and our communities. By helping them, we will make our state and our country more resilient.
Becci Reedus is executive director of The Crisis Center of Johnson County. She is an Iowa native with 35 years of nonprofit management experience.