REP. LOHSE: Opening Iowa’s nursing homes safely

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Thanks for tuning in for yet another week. It was a long week of discussing and debating a number of bills.

On St. Patrick’s Day we debated, for four hours, the Firearms Omnibus Bill. This bill makes several notable changes:

  • Removes the need to obtain a permit to acquire and to carry a firearm. Citizens, if they so choose, can still obtain said permits. Despite reports to the contrary, the background check component of purchasing a pistol remains.
  • Off-duty law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry on school grounds, and EMT’s who work with tactical teams would be able to obtain a professional permit to carry firearms.
  • Prohibits landlords of state funded housing from prohibiting firearms. Private landlords would still be allowed to ban firearms in their buildings.
  • Clarifies that political subdivisions (i.e., cities and counties) cannot regulate the carrying of firearms.
  • Creates a Department of Public Safety database for qualified gun training organizations.

While it is understandable to see how some of the misconceptions surrounding this bill formed, they remain nothing but misconceptions. The important thing to remember is that this bill does not remove background checks from law, still preventing individuals with felonies or domestic abuse convictions from purchasing firearms.

Below, I’ll provide updates on other pieces of legislation that passed during what proved to be an incredibly busy and tiring week.

Federal Funding Breakdown for Iowa Education

On March 11, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law. This bill provides just over $170.3 billion to education alone. The funds are to be used for short term needs that are associated with COVID-19, as well as investing in long term projects. Of the $170.3 billion for education, about $125.4 billion for state K-12 public education and $39.6 billion in higher education, with remaining funds going to other educational programs.

Additionally, the Act provides $7.2 billion in funding for the federal E-Rate program which will provide devices and connectivity to students, educators, and patrons of public libraries. For private schools, governors will receive $2.75 billion in funding to assist private schools that have a high percentage of low-income students and most impacted by COVID-19.  Of the $125.4 billion for K12 public schools, $122.8 billion will be put into the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) which is distributed to states based on their Title I, Part A funding, which is the same as the previous round of education funding.

What does this mean for Iowa? Iowa will receive a total of $774,516,000 for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding. That breaks down to $1,513.17 per pupil. LEA for learning recovery is slated to get $135,540,300. See below a further breakdown of where funding is going.

Opening Iowa’s Nursing Homes Safely

Iowa’s nursing homes and their direct care staff have done an exceptional job protecting the health of their vulnerable residents throughout this public health emergency. While the physical health of Iowans residing in nursing homes is extremely important, we must not forget the toll isolation from loved ones can have as well.

Last week, after a year of extremely limited visitation, the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Department of Inspections and Appeals expanded their indoor visitation guidance at long-term care facilities.  This guidance takes into consideration the Long Term Care Pharmacy Partnership Program, which as of March 12th has administered 139,142 vaccine doses to Iowa’s nursing home residents and staff.  As of March 17th, there is only one nursing home out of 444 that has COVID-19 cases.  The updated guidance requires nursing homes to allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident, or visitor, unless these three instances arise:

  • Unvaccinated residents, if the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10% and less than 70$ of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;
  • Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met the criteria to discontinue transmission-based precautions; or
  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine.

The guidance continues to have infection control recommendations for all visits, including screening of everyone entering the facility, face coverings, and 6-foot distancing.