September 5, 2014

Meet State Senator Jack Hatch & Monica Vernon – Tuesday, September 9, 5:30 pm
Raise the wage challenge
Local workers speak out - Thursday
Iowa supreme court to hear oral arguments in Iowa City - Thursday
Working families: the foundation of a strong Iowa economy
Training a skilled Iowa workforce
Affordable higher education strengthens middle class
News you can use

Please come and meet Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch and his running mate, Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon, on Tuesday, September 9, 5:30-7:00 p.m. at The Sanctuary Pub, 405 S Gilbert Street, Iowa City. Everyone is welcome!

Yesterday, I accepted the challenge of living on the minimum wage for a week to better understand the difficult decisions far too many Iowa families face.

I started at Aldi in Iowa City with my grocery list last night. Then I went to Hy-Vee for a couple things there. Aldi was busy.

Below are some photos of my purchases. I am making a big pot of pinto beans for tacos. I will be lunching on PBJ sandwiches all week. I will be eating yogurt, bagel and banana for breakfast. It’s hard to afford a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. I did buy an onion, red pepper and a head of cabbage. I am also planning a main course of pasta after the beans are gone. Splurged on cheapest beer, Hamm's for $8.99. Total spending so far is $41.06. I will not be going out to eat or drink this week.

Everyone knows Iowa’s minimum wage is less than what it costs to live. This is going to be hard. I will post daily updates at

From an Iowa Senate Press Release:

Bolkcom joins “Raise the Wage” Challenge
Senator calls on Governor and other minimum wage opponents to live a minimum wage worker for a week

DES MOINES, IA -- The Raise the Wage Iowa Coalition today called on elected officials to live on the minimum wage for one week at events in Sioux City and Des Moines. State Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids and Tom Courtney of Burlington accepted the challenge.

Bolkcom called today for high-profile minimum wage opponents -- including Congressman Steve King, Governor Terry Branstad, State Senator Joni Ernst -- to learn firsthand the need to raise the minimum wage by living on a budget of $77 for one week in transportation and food costs. After taxes and housing expenses, $77 per week is all the typical Iowa full-time minimum wage worker has remaining.

According to the Iowa Policy Project, 4 out of 5 low wage workers are over the age of 20, 58 percent are women, and more than 4 in 10 have at least some college education. Recently, State Senator Joni Ernst has called having any minimum wage “ridiculous” and said that the current minimum wage is appropriate for Iowans.

- End-

My groceries from Aldi's for the next week.

Here is the statement I made at the Des Moines kickoff news conference:

"I accepted the challenge of living on the minimum wage to understand better understand the difficult decisions far too many Iowa families face.

"Everyone knows Iowa’s minimum wage is less than what it costs to live.

"Tens of thousands of Iowans work fulltime for MORE than the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and still struggle to put food on their table, a roof over their heads, and gas in their car.

"That’s why most Iowans support raising the minimum wage. And it is why most Iowans businesses already pay more than the minimum wage.

"As a state legislator, I want to know why Iowa tax dollars are used to help low wage employers compete against responsible businesses that pay more?

"That’s what happens when workers aren’t paid a living wage. You and I subsidize low wage employers by providing millions in tax dollars help low wage workers keep body and soul together.

"The simpler thing to do, the less costly thing to do, the right thing to do is to increase the minimum wage.

"Here’s a reason we can all support for increasing Iowa’s minimum wage. It will grow Iowa’s economy and increase the incomes of all Iowa workers. Here’s how:

"Increase the minimum wage and some 300,000 Iowa workers—many earning a dollar or two more than the current minimum wage—will receive a pay increase.

"That will help the Iowa economy because low wage workers are the people MOST likely to spend their money at local businesses.

"When Walmart, for example, is forced to pay their workers more, more of the money Walmart makes in Iowa remains in Iowa, helping our communities and other Iowa businesses grow.

"Every Iowa politician says they want to increase family incomes.

"Raising the minimum wage is the only policy proposal that will, without a doubt, actually do just that."

My groceries from Hy-Vee for the next week.

The Iowa City Federation of Labor and the Center for Worker Justice will host a public meeting to hear directly from local workers about the problems they face every day in doing their jobs. The meeting will also discuss possible solutions.

The meeting will take place on Thursday, September 11, in Room A of the Iowa City Public Library at 6:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

On Thursday, September 11, the Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Iowa City. The proceeding will take place in the Iowa City West High School auditorium, 2901 Melrose Avenue. The session is open to the public and will begin at 7 p.m.

The court will hear attorneys argue in two cases: State of Iowa v. Zachariah J. Rogerson, No. 13-1329, from Dubuque County, which addresses the legality of witnesses testifying remotely; and State of Iowa v. Yvette Marie Louisell, Case Number 14-0175, from Story County, which deals with the constitutionality of a murder conviction sentence for a 17-year-old.

September kicked off with Labor Day, a time to celebrate the achievements of working families as the foundation of a strong economy.

Here in Iowa, we're always looking for ways to make our state the best possible place for hard-working families. Successful initiatives to strengthen Iowa's middle class over the last couple of years include:

Income tax breaks: A major increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit will help those who pay the highest share of their income in state and local taxes and move working families out of poverty. In addition, a $90 million tax cut will benefit all Iowans who have a state income tax liability this year.

Help for working families: We're keeping childcare affordable for working families by boosting our state's child and dependent care tax credit, and expanding childcare assistance to more parents who work part time while going to school or getting job training.

These steps are helping millions of working Iowans build a better life for themselves and their families, but there is more we can do. For example, the problem of wage theft is reaching epidemic proportions in Iowa and across the country.

Iowa workers are being cheated out of as much as $600 million a year in hard-earned wages because of exploitation by a few bad employers. Senate Democrats have introduced legislation several times over the past few years to establish better safeguards that ensure Iowans get paid and allow investigators to more easily go after businesses that fail to pay what they owe.

Studies repeatedly find that employers are unable to find workers with the skills to fill job openings, education and training don't match workplace needs, and workers are not aware of programs that can train them in new skills.

Remedying those problems is the most important thing we can go to strengthen Iowa's middle class and grow our economy.

Middle-skill jobs are on the rise and are expected to make up 62 percent of Iowa positions in four years. However, only about a third of Iowa workers qualify for them, according to a report on Middle-Skill Jobs in Iowa. Middle-skill jobs encompass a wide range of occupations, from computer specialists and radiation therapists to carpenters and machinists—positions that require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

This year, we continued our work to expand training and apprenticeship programs that will prepare more workers to fill openings for good jobs in their communities.

We're keeping tuition affordable with a boost in funding for Iowa's community colleges, the first place many Iowans go to further their education, training and career opportunities. We're investing in internships so that Iowa students studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can get hands-on experience in these growing fields. And we're increasing the number of skilled workers by committing more than $40 million to job training efforts.

We are also improving and expanding apprenticeship programs, which provide supervised on-the-job training and technical classroom studies. Last year, Iowa had 662 apprenticeship programs, with more than 8,100 apprentices.

By investing in apprenticeships, we will make sure local employers have the skilled workers they need. Plus, it’s a good deal for trainees. They are paid to learn a skilled trade and earn a nationally recognized credential.

In addition to state support for apprenticeship programs, Iowa recently was awarded a $6.1 million federal grant that will place 1,500 Iowans in apprenticeship-based occupations in high-demand industries.

Learn more about the opportunities apprenticeships provide Iowa workers at

A new school year is getting under way at Iowa's colleges and universities. Students are gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to improve their lives and communities. Keeping their tuition affordable is an important part of our efforts to expand Iowa's middle class because all Iowans who want to further their education should be able to do it.

Community colleges: This year, we increased support for Iowa’s 15 community colleges by $8 million. Their role in education and job training is growing, as they work closely with local businesses to reduce Iowa's shortage of skilled workers. Almost all community college students are Iowans who plan to stay in the state when they graduate. Statewide enrollment for fall of 2013 was 94,234. Kirkwood Community College had 15,345 students—from recent high school grads earning their first college credits to family breadwinners learning new skills for better jobs.

State universities: During the 2014 session, we provided the funding necessary to freeze tuition at the University of Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa for the second straight year. I believe we should do it for a third. About 63 percent of Iowa's state university graduates in 2013 had student loan debt, averaging $28,293 per student, according to the Iowa College Student Aid Commission. The Iowa Policy Project, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Reserve and numerous other groups warn that rising student loan debt is bad for our economy.

Private colleges and universities: Almost half of bachelor's degrees awarded in Iowa come from our private colleges and universities. A boost in the Iowa Tuition Grant will ensure more of these students can afford the education that's right for them. To qualify, a student must be an Iowa resident, attend an independent, non-profit college or university, and demonstrate financial need. Last year, nearly 15,000 students received the grant, which is matched by their school. This includes 296 students in Johnson County, who were awarded more than $757,000 in Iowa Tuition Grants.

Affordable tuition for those willing to study hard and work hard is a smart approach to strengthening Iowa's middle class, keeping our workforce competitive and building a high-skill, high-wage economy in our state. For more on grants, scholarships and other help to pay for college, go to


Historic preservation grant for Iowa City
The University of Iowa received a $15,206 grant through REAP's Historical Resource Development Program for the Museum of Natural History. The money will go toward a project to reunite and integrate historic insect specimens previously held in another department and upgrade cabinets, drawers and specimen boxes to stabilize and preserve them for ongoing research, education and outreach.

Organizations can apply for AmeriCorps funding
Through September 8, the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service is accepting applications for AmeriCorps State Planning Grants to help organizations prepare to submit an application for a full AmeriCorps program grant.

AmeriCorps is a national service program that helps meet community needs. AmeriCorps grants are awarded on a competitive basis to help organizations manage an AmeriCorps program, which involves recruiting, training and supporting AmeriCorps and projects focused on organizational capacity-building, education, healthy futures, environmental stewardship, veterans and military families, economic opportunities, public safety, disaster preparedness/response and other community issues in Iowa.

For more information and application materials, go to and click on "Grant Opportunities."

BOW workshop registration open
Registration is open for the annual Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop Sept. 19-21 at the Springbrook Conservation Education Center in Guthrie County. The weekend event gives women the chance to develop a variety of outdoor skills, including basic fishing, fly-fishing, bird watching, archery, beginning shotgun shooting, basic motor boat skills, geocaching, canoeing, stand up paddling, Dutch oven cooking, nature photography and more. More information and registration materials are available at

How to Contact Me

Joe Bolkcom
728 2nd Avenue
Iowa City, IA 52245

About The Networker

The Networker provides brief summaries of some of the things that I am working on, the work of the General Assembly, and political perspectives on issues. I also use it to announce meetings and how to find useful information about state government.

Additional information

Senator Joe Bolkcom is an Assistant Majority Leader and chair of the Ways & Means Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Commerce, Environment & Energy Independence, Human Resources, and Natural Resources committees.