Iowa fund that helps low-income veterans runs dry

Iowa fund that helps low-income veterans runs dry

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  • December 24, 2022
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Expanded eligibility and increased costs are blamed

DES MOINES — Low-income Iowa veterans lost an option for helping pay for expenses like health care, housing and transportation after a state trust fund to aid them was exhausted.

It is the first time in at least a decade that money available from the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund has been depleted — and it likely will remain so until this summer. State officials said recently expanded eligibility and inflation-induced cost increases led to the depletion.

Established nearly 20 years ago and operated by the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund is available to Iowa veterans and families who are at 300 percent of the federal poverty line or lower — roughly $41,000 for an individual or $69,000 for a family of three.

The fund can be used to cover myriad expenses, including medical equipment, emergency room care, dental and hearing care, emergency housing and vehicle repairs, counseling, unemployment assistance and job training.

The Iowa Veterans Trust Fund is funded by an annual $500,000 state appropriation and an annual $2.5 million deposit from the Iowa Lottery. The program pays for services for eligible veterans out of interest earned on the trust fund.

After expending roughly $496,000 in 2018, $632,000 in 2019 and $573,000 in 2020, more than $1.7 million was spent from the trust fund in 2021, according to the latest annual report. Expenditures for 2022 are not yet available.

Eligibility for the trust fund was expanded in 2021 to accommodate greater needs for Iowa veterans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 derecho. And inflation-induced cost increases for services drove up expenditures from the trust fund, said Veterans Affairs spokesman Karl Lettow.

The increased needs and eligibility created “an unprecedented influx of application requests for assistance,” Lettow said.

The fund’s depletion means low-income Iowa veterans cannot apply for assistance through the fund until the new state budget year starts July 1, when it will be replenished by an annual state appropriation.

Lettow said Iowa veterans should talk to their local veterans services officials about other options and programs.

“The Iowa Veterans Trust Fund is an outstanding partnership that provides emergency funds to Iowa Veterans who have nowhere else to turn for support. Our goal is to ensure that we address the needs of Iowa Veterans within the constraints of the appropriation, and we will be exploring options with stakeholders as we begin the new year,” Iowa Veterans Affairs Director Todd Jacobus said in a statement.

In 2022, the Iowa Commission on Veterans Affairs asked lawmakers to increase that annual appropriation from $500,000 to $800,000. Legislation that would have done that passed the Iowa House on a unanimous 97-0 vote, but was not considered by the Iowa Senate in the last legislative session.

Lettow said the commission plans to make the same request during the 2023 legislative session, which begins in January.

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