Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. April 13, 2024.

Editorial: State meal site funding positive, but millions less than rejected federal program

It’s good to see the state of Iowa making money available to support summer meal sites for kids, but the move renews questions about the wisdom of state officials’ decision declining to participate in a federal initiative to provide summer food assistance for children.

On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds unveiled the new Summer Meal Program Expansion Grant, which will provide $900,000 in grants to help schools and community programs expand existing child nutrition assistance programs. The program will be administered through the state education department and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“With the Summer Meal Program Expansion Grant, we will expand these well-established programs across our state to ensure Iowa’s youth have meals that are healthy and use local community farms and vendors when possible,” Reynolds said in the news release.

Hard to argue with meals for kids in need.

But then again, it was the same governor who said no to the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program for 2024. The USDA program, known as Summer EBT, provides families of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school with EBT cards, giving $40 of food assistance per child each month over the summer.

Just last month, Wisconsin became the first state to receive federal approval for the Summer EBT program, and some 35 states have moved to participate in the program.

Yet, Iowa Republicans were convinced there were better ways to feed kids. One concern they raised was the $2 million or so cost of implementing the program that the state would incur. Republicans also criticized the federal program for not limiting the EBT vouchers to being spent only on nutritious foods.


Des Moines Register. April 14, 2024.

Editorial: Iowa needs its own cancer moonshot, with wide-ranging approaches

The Iowa Legislature could, at the least, not erect barriers to better understanding cancer.

What we know about cancer is dwarfed by what we don’t know, but we do know this: Among the states, Iowa has the second-highest rate of new cancers.

Particularly notable in the data, experts say, are the prevalence of breast, prostate, lung and skin cancers. But knowing what’s happening is different from knowing precisely why, or exactly what actions could improve the trends. Responses from doctors and other scientists interviewed by Cedar Rapids Gazette reporters for a series of stories this spring illustrated this: They pointed to demographic or geographic tendencies in the data but were careful to distinguish those facts from their well-informed but not-proven hypotheses.

In the face of such uncertainty, what Iowans shouldn’t do is shrug their shoulders. Individuals, medical professionals and policymakers all can make a difference in promoting health even if they don’t know exactly how those actions will affect cancer.

In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden launched the Cancer Moonshot, following the 2015 death of his older son, Beau, to brain cancer at age 46. The moonshot is a national mobilization “to end cancer as we know it.”

Iowa needs its own cancer moonshot. Attacking this scourge will require a purposeful change in mindset, committing to more aggressively promoting public health and regulating threats on a wide array of fronts. At the state government level, that will mean investing in proper nutrition, environmental protection and health screenings, even while research continues into their exact roles in cancer cases.

Report focuses on alcohol; scientists question farm practices

An annual state report on cancer this year emphasized problems associated with alcohol consumption. That focus makes some sense; talking about alcohol and cancer gives Iowans some agency in deciding what risks to take in their lives.

Some ideas about what contributes to cancer, however, are far less tidy. Some scientists say that the way we farm is a likely culprit ‒ heavy on chemicals, some applied to food and some that wash away into sources of drinking water. This proposition has some intuitive appeal given the scale of Iowa agriculture and the state’s disinterest in regulating farming. But whatever else advocates might say about problems connected with agriculture, they can’t point to incontrovertible proof of a direct path from pesticide application to a cancer diagnosis. Even lifelong heavy smokers diagnosed with lung cancer can’t have absolute conviction that the habit was responsible.

At the least, the state shouldn’t put up barriers

Our state should aspire to climb above the distinction of being one of the worst places in the nation for cancer., That path will be winding, and most of the achievement won’t come from government. So what should state government be doing? The Iowa Legislature could, at the least, not erect barriers to better understanding cancer. And it could commit time and appropriations to encouraging an environment and behaviors associated with better health. The 2024 session has not been a great one on either front, however.

A handful of cancer-related bills still appear to have a decent chance of becoming law. Iowans could get better insurance coverage for biomarker testing that can benefit cancer treatment and for mammograms ordered to investigate a specific concern. But a number of other bipartisan proposals did not advance.

And then there’s the renewed efforts to shield pesticide makers from lawsuits. Bayer, which makes the popular Roundup spray, could be granted immunity so long as its products were labeled and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Some other jurisdictions have labeled the ingredient glyphosate a carcinogen. Earlier in the year, bills to shield large ag companies appeared to be dead, but legislative leaders have revived them in recent weeks.

That this idea is even being discussed is offensive to Iowans with cancer and to grieving families who don’t need to confront new obstacles in the justice system. It also gives credence to industry claims that meritless (in their view) lawsuits threaten the viability of the products or of the ag giants themselves.

Policymakers can take more steps to promote public health

The Legislature and other governments could do better by helping people take steps they can’t necessarily take without help:

Help them buy filters for their water. Help them undergo screenings to catch disease earlier instead of avoiding appointments because of the expense. Knowing that obesity is a cancer risk factor, support programs to make nutritious food available to low-income people. Discourage excessive alcohol and tobacco use. In Iowa in particular, where our geology makes cancer-causing radon gas a disproportionately serious concern statewide, make mitigation equipment more affordable. Invest in water quality. Dissuade pollution through enforcement. Educate children about HPV. Support state university research into better understanding of cancer causes and treatments.

Those things, and a thousand more, can help reverse health trends. It’s the same approach the Biden administration took Wednesday in announcing rules restricting “forever chemicals” in drinking water. The effort is worthwhile even despite the large price tag that cleaner water will require and the fact that while the chemicals have been linked to certain cancers and a wide range of harmful health effects, research is not definitive.

A better outlook for reducing cancer in Iowa will happen bit by bit. The direction should be the focus.