Abby Finkenauer took her public service career to Washington, D.C., with her election to Congress in 2018, but she hasn’t forgotten her roots in the Iowa Legislature.
Her second term in the Iowa House saw the 2017 and 2018 legislation sessions entirely guided by a Republican agenda, as lawmakers of the opposite party controlled the governor’s office, Senate and House.
During that time, Republicans significantly eroded union workers’ rights and job opportunities, including sweeping changes to collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation and funding for local transportation projects.
As a freshman member of the Democrat-controlled U.S. House, Finkenauer has introduced bills and launched investigations in an effort to unravel the work of Republicans in the state Capitol.
Here are three examples:
‘Federal Fund Swapping’
On Labor Day, Finkenauer made public her call for an investigation into the practice known as “federal fund swapping,” approved by the Iowa Legislature in 2017.
The process of allocating federal transportation dollars to cities and counties typically works by allowing states to pass on the dollars to local governments. When “fund swapping” comes into play, however, states keep all the federal dollars and instead give cities and counties money from their transportation funds, thus skirting federal requirements laid out in the Buy American Act and prevailing wage laws.
The Government Accountability Office will dig into the process to find out, among other things, whether fund swapping reduces the number of projects subject to federal requirements; the impact of fund swapping on wages and the use of local contractors; and why state transportation agencies engage in low-wage practices.
“I distinctly remember when Iowa decided to pass legislation to allow fund swapping, I was there to fight it and for good reason,” said Finkenauer, vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Monday in a statement. “I stood with working families and the fight for American jobs in the State House and I sure as heck stand with them now in Congress. My role as Vice Chair of Highways and Transit has given Iowans a literal seat at the table as we advocate for more investments in our communities, but also the jobs that those investments sustain.”
Ryan Drew, of Burlington, was one of the labor leaders to join Finkenauer in a press conference about the investigation. At 2017 town hall meetings with state legislators, Drew was a vocal opponent of the federal fund swapping bill, explaining to his Republican representatives the harm it would have on local wages and workers.
“Wage protections for the skilled trades have a long history of having bipartisan support in Washington, but creative anti-worker groups have seemed to have found a way to exploit these protections when the federal funding is distributed to the local community and state level,” said Drew, president of the Des Moines-Henry County Labor Alliance, in a statement. “When we are trying to fill a skills gap in the workforce it seems counterproductive to attack the wages that attract good workers to a seasonal position.”
Bargaining Rights For Unions
In June, Finkenauer signed-on as an original co-sponsor of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, led by Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania.
Speaking on the bill in a committee meeting, Finkenauer said she was “proud” to work toward passing a bill that “prevents states from attacking public employees’ collective bargaining rights, like they did in Iowa, ensuring that they can negotiate for fair pay and safer workplaces.”
The bill, H.R. 3463, was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor and has yet to be debated.
Finkenauer made labor issues a signature part of her work in the Iowa Legislature, a cause she has not given up as a member of Congress.
” … we must always stay vigilant as some policy makers say they’re for our workers during election years, but then turn around and push an anti-worker agenda,” Finkenauer said, Monday in a statement about Labor Day. “I grew up in a union household, I’m standing up for workers who want to earn a fair wage and build a good life, that’s one of the reasons I ran for Congress.”
Medicare Reimbursement Rates
In this era of Republican-led government in Des Moines, much of the health care conversation has centered on former Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to privatize Medicaid services. No longer run by the state, health insurance for poor and disabled Iowans now is provided by for-profit insurance companies.
As a result, some patients have seen a decline in care as the insurance companies reject services previously covered by the state, and health care providers suffer multi-million-dollar losses due to a lack of reimbursement.
For Finkenauer and other state and federal lawmakers working to shore-up the system, Medicaid privatization and low reimbursement rates for Medicare services are closely linked.
Earlier this summer, Finkenauer introduced legislation to increase Medicare’s reimbursement rate in Iowa. According to data provided by the congresswoman’s office, doctors in Iowa have the seventh-lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the country, making it difficult for them to cover the cost of caring for elderly patients.
“Our rural health care facilities are the bedrock of many communities, but too many are in danger of closing,” Finkenauer said, Monday in a Des Moines Register op-ed.
“This summer, we have seen a clinic shutter in northeast Iowa due to low Medicare reimbursement rates. Another hospital is closing its obstetrics unit, which could force some new mothers to travel long distances to get the care they need,” she continued. “Medicaid privatization has only made this worse, too, with rural nursing homes closing, forcing families to move their loved ones farther away to get the care they need. We also have parents unsure of where or how their child is going to get the care they need.
“I will continue working with anyone who is serious about helping my friends and neighbors sleep soundly without the growing burden of health care hanging over their heads.’
By Elizabeth Meyer