Activists urge Johnson County leaders to provide more direct aid to individuals

As federal funds reach Johnson County, some community members have expressed concerns about how these funds will be allocated.


Shivansh Ahuja

The Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City is seen on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

Marco Oceguera, News Reporter

Johnson County community members and activists urged local government officials to allocate funds from the American Rescue Plan to direct relief for workers at the Johnson County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Thursday.

In a virtual public forum, eight people urged the supervisors to prioritize people and workers when deciding how to allocate federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.

The federal economic relief bill, which was passed by Congress in March, provided $350 billion in relief funds to aid state and local governments.

The National Association of Counties estimates that Johnson County will receive more than $29 million from the relief plan.

This public forum comes after a coalition of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, SEIU, Catholic Worker, Iowa Freedom Riders, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and League of United Latin American Citizens penned a letter to local government leaders asking them to use discretion when allocating funds from the relief fund.

The new group of activists has called itself the Excluded Workers Coalition. Their goals are to push Johnson County to allocate its federal funds to workers who never received federal stimulus. This group includes undocumented immigrants, freed convicted felons, and some front-line healthcare workers.

The coalition has expressed its views at multiple public events, including the Johnson County Joint Entities Meeting this Tuesday.

Ken Bowen, a board member of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, said county leaders should allow the public to play a larger role in determining how funds are distributed. Bowen said he wants the decision-making process to be transparent.

“There should be public input into how the money is spent,” Bowen said. “…We are talking about people who were called essential workers, that are also probably some of the worst paid workers. They all need a raise.”

Some people also pointed out the flexibility that county leaders have in deciding how funds are used.

President of SEIU Local 199 Cathy Glasson, a Coralville resident, said because Johnson County has discretion over how federal funds are spent, they should be used to provide direct aid payments to community members.

Glasson added that these funds be used to provide hazard pay for essential workers and to expand access to affordable housing and public transportation within the area.

“We know cities, counties, and states will have discretion over how American Rescue Plan funds are distributed,” Glasson said. “[Johnson County] should be thinking boldly and broadly.”

Manny Galvez, a resident of North Liberty, echoed these statements while also stressing the social responsibility that the community has to its residents.

Galvez said he hopes that Johnson County leaders can serve as a positive model for allocating federal funds effectively and fairly.

“Let’s send a message to the rest of the state,” Galvez said. “We have a responsibility. This is not a political issue. This is a human issue.”

Glasson pointed out that Johnson County is home to many frontline workers, calling them “heroes” for their work during the pandemic.

Office Manager of SEIU Local 199 Katie Biechler said while local businesses have received more continuous forms of relief aid, individuals in the community have often faced greater struggles.

Certain individuals, such as undocumented workers, have also been completely left out of federal aid programs, Biechler said.

“This round of relief funds are needed for those hardest-hit by the pandemic that did not receive relief in previous rounds,” she said.

Biechler added that potentially providing funds to grassroots organizations representing groups that have been the most negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“If this aid is going to be truly transformative, now is the time to seize the moment,” Biechler said.