Coronavirus and Mental Health, Food Insecurity, Agriculture Economy

Iowa Press | Episode
Apr 24, 2020 | 57 min

On this Iowa Press Special: Coronavirus, a panel of experts participate in a live discussion of the pandemic’s impact on mental health, food insecurity and the agriculture economy, answering viewer questions submitted via email, phone and social media.

The panel includes Michelle Book, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Iowa; Bruce Buchanan, president and CEO of Compass Clinical Associates; and Chad Hart, associate professor of economics at Iowa State University. Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table is Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa.

During this expanded Iowa Press, viewers submitted questions online, via email and over the phone for reporters to share with the panel. Viewers experiencing their own adverse medical symptoms are encouraged to call 2-1-1 or reach out to their individual medical providers.

Program support provided by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa. 


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Our nation is well over a month into the shutdown impacts from a global pandemic. The strain on our mental health as well as the American food supply is playing out here in Iowa. We dive deeper into the issues of food insecurity, agriculture and mental health on this special hour-long edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.


Celebrating nearly 50 years of public affairs coverage on statewide Iowa PBS, this is an Iowa Press special edition on the coronavirus pandemic. Here is David Yepsen. 


Yepsen: Many Iowans have grown accustomed to a so-called new normal, impacting many aspects of their daily life. But the prolonged strain of limited social interactions, income loss or job uncertainty and a lingering sense of pandemic dread can take a toll on anyone's mental health. The COVID-19 outbreak has also led to increased food insecurity as well. And massive ripple effects on Iowa's crucial agricultural economy. 

Yepsen: To discuss these many issues we're joined by Michelle Book, President and CEO of the Food Bank of Iowa. Chad Hart, Associate Professor of Economics at Iowa State University. And Bruce Buchanan, President and CEO at Compass Clinical Services. Welcome to all of you. Glad to have you with us. Our audience can see that we're trying to practice good social distancing here. So we thank you for being here.

Yepsen: We've expanded our regular format on Iowa Press to a full one hour and you can see the many ways to submit potential questions for these experts via email and social media or through our 800 number listed on screen. We have a separate number tonight for Spanish speaking Iowans to ask their questions via a trained interpreter. And we'll incorporate some of everyone's questions into the back half of the program. Now also joining us in studio is Kay Henderson, News Director of Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Let's start with a little bit of quick analysis from each of you. Mr. ag economist, I'll start with you. What is the depth of the dip in the ag economy?

Hart: The depth of the dip is quite dramatic. You're talking anywhere from 15% to 50% losses in terms of revenue across our Iowa agricultural sectors. We're seeing some of the largest cuts in our meat industry and our energy sector. But all phases of our agricultural economy are feeling the effects of COVID-19.

Henderson: Michelle Book, you are with the Food Bank of Iowa. You're also a leader in the Iowa Food Bank Association. Give us an analysis quickly of the dip in, I guess the increase rather in food insecurity.

Book: Well, prior to COVID-19 11% of Iowans lived in poverty and many of those people suffer from food insecurity. I guess by the end of this month that we'll have 200,000 additional unemployment claims filed in the state of Iowa. We have those folks that are now new to need. They haven't navigated the system before, they don't know how to file unemployment, never dreamed that they ever possibly would be in that position to apply for SNAP benefits or food assistance. So on top of the 11% to 12% of people we were already serving across the state of Iowa, we now have a new group of people that have to navigate a very complex system.

Henderson: Bruce Buchanan, you are a clinician and you’re the CEO of a health care organization that provides mental health services. What are you seeing in your sector?

Buchanan: Well, we have seen just an explosion of individuals suffering from anxiety. That is probably the largest group that we've seen and within the context of our practice. All of our clinicians, we have 35, and all of our mental health clinicians are working from home and doing that over telehealth, which is new to Iowa, and in one sense a good thing, which is kind of weird to say that. But one of the things that we do know is that about 50% of the people who have lifetime mental health services, needing lifetime mental health services, start when they're 14 years old or younger. And 75% of those people by the age of 24. So we have lots of people in dire need, fear, worry, concern and not only emotional fear but also the fear for their family's ability to have food on the table, all of those kinds of things.

Yepsen: Professor Hart, a question many Iowans have is when can we reopen? When do you think we can reopen?

Hart: And that's a hard question to answer because we're still trying to figure out the scope of the public health crisis that we're under. Without the tests to really tell us exactly how far along we are along the curve here it is really hard to tell when we will be able to fully reopen. I think what you've seen the Governor propose thus far is to try a limited roll out here to I would say expand what has been deemed essential and especially in areas trying to ease the food crisis like today's example with the farmer's markets of trying to target that specifically to food to reach those Iowans that need the help right now.

Yepsen: Is there an economic danger to reopening too quickly? In other words, we reopen quickly and the virus explodes and so we dip again. But won't the dip be even worse if this comes around again?

Hart: That is the danger here. If we do reopen too quickly we get that rebound impact here and that can be worse than the initial dip that we've taken already. And so that is the wild card in all this. As we try to bring ourselves back and to restart our economy we have to do it in a very responsible manner otherwise we will do significant damage.

Yepsen: How many people are there in Iowa who are anxious about the reopening, who are nervous about and afraid of reopening? What part of the problem do you see where there's an anxiety about it?

Buchanan: Well, the anxiety is twofold. One, it's about the increased anxiety around social isolation and then also the fear of the now coming out, if you will, with regards to how do I go out and navigate going and getting a haircut. I don't need one but other people do. Going out and getting food at the food market. And their anxiety have tremendously, we've had a lot of people so fearful and the germ issue is a huge one. It's an unseen issue. And so it creates a lot of anxiety.

Henderson: Chad Hart, let's talk about the meat packing industry. What is the depth of that going to be? Will there be meat shortages?

Hart: We will probably have selected shortages in certain products. What we have right now I'll call it a gigantic mismatch. We have plenty of supplies of animals, we actually have fair amounts of meat in storage already, but it's not in the package or it's not the cuts that we're seeing selling at the grocery stores. And so I've described it as what we're trying to do right now is rewire our entire food delivery system in the course of about a month.

Book: Kay, if I might add to that, we are working with the Iowa Pork Producers on a project called Pass the Pork where we are looking for a way to get animals into a large packer or to small town, those meat packers in small town Iowa to get pork moved along to the food banks across the state of Iowa.

Henderson: Well, that's what I was going to ask you. In just talking to friends who don't have a history on the farm as maybe some of us do, it's sort of incongruous to them to hear these stories of dumping milk and euthanizing hogs. Why is it, explain to the people who may not understand that, why is that and why can't you just flip the switch?

Book: Well, if you can imagine all of us at our home now eating from our own refrigerators every single meal, every single day, where just two months ago we weren't doing that. Children were at school, kids were at college, I would eat in the cafeteria or at a restaurant for lunch, I had many meals out during the week at restaurants. So all of that food that was originally destined for industrial or restaurant use comes in bulk packaging. Much of it does not have labeling. For any individual to pick that up and take it home to their family, FDA requires a label. You, I doubt, could accommodate a 20 pound bucket of hard boiled eggs in your refrigerator. So we're being asked at the Food Bank of Iowa to take 20 gallon buckets of hard boiled eggs, or 20 pound buckets of hard boiled eggs, milk without containers, these things that are coming in bulk so we are finding creative ways to break down product so we can get it from industrial and restaurant use into the family's household.

Henderson: Chad, back to you. The problem with the meat supply seems to be the problem we had with the toilet paper supply, right?

Hart: It is, well it's a little bit of that hoarding run that we've had, but it's also with the processing plants shutting down that is the pinch point, where if you think about it the idea is we've got good supplies on one end, we've got good demand on the other, but you have to pass through the processing plants. And with roughly now we figure 30% of our processing capacity sort of offline right now that is creating a problem where we have, if you will, too many hogs for too little processing capacity. So we can't create the meat there.

Book: The hog farmers are pinched too because they need to move those animals along. Those schedules are very tight. You move them off and then the next day you receive another batch that you need to get through the processing cycle and when they can't move those hogs off, they've got to continue to feed them, they incur more costs, the hogs get heavier, they get bigger and the farmer is not going to make any income in that kind of a situation. So we have more farmers pressed in this kind of situation as well.

Yepsen: What are you doing with the grocery stores and the grocery chains in this state by way of getting leftover food, food with expired dates? You folks were already doing a lot with that. Has that been accelerated in some fashion?

Book: Food banks started in 1960's on the premise of rescuing food that was no longer viable within a retail kind of environment where it didn't meet certain standards or qualifications but it was still edible. So food banks across the United States, six of which there are in the state of Iowa, have relationships with retailers and many of those have national Feeding America relationships, Wal-Mart, Target, Aldi's, Fareway is a great partner, Casey's has just recently come on board. But in the last six weeks we've seen a 15% to 20% decrease in the amount of food that we're being offered from retailers. So as we see need going up, the retailers have less to give us.

Yepsen: Because they're selling more.

Book: Because they're selling more and they're having a hard time getting it as well.

Henderson: And I believe the Governor told us that demand of food banks grew by 60% in March. Is that correct?

Book: It is correct.

Henderson: What have you seen in April?

Book: Similar. What is happening now, people are burning through the last of their paycheck, they're burning through the last of their savings, they're burning through their tax refund and they're burning through their stimulus check. We really anticipate that there will be dog days of summer.

Yepsen: What happens after this in those dog days? Where do you get products to give to people?

Book: Well, we are working through several different avenues with the USDA right now. We are getting additional food through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through our commodity food programs, the Federal Nutrition System is working with us. Just yesterday they announced a program buying produce, meat and dairy, $300 million a week. So we're working with large vendors, Loffredo, Capital City Fruit we hope, Anderson Erickson, we just reached out to these vendors today to make large purchases on the behalf of the food bank network in Iowa. The vendor has to do the buy and then they have to donate that product to people that are food insecure via a non-profit organization and that is where the Feeding American Food Banks in Iowa can step up.

Yepsen: What is the economic adjustment that is going to have to occur, Professor Hart, during this in the ag sector? You've got to get rid of little pigs because you've got too many big ones that have got to be slaughtered. You've got to break down 20 gallon buckets of hard boiled eggs.

Book: 20 pound buckets.

Yepsen: 20 pound, all right. How does the agricultural food sector re-gear to reprocess that stuff?

Hart: Well that's the deal, they're doing what they can when they can. As Michelle said, we're repackaging what we can where we can. We're setting up different ways to process, just as you've transformed the studio here with these Plexiglas dividers, we're seeing the same thing at our food processing plants in order to try to create that personal space that we're needing to keep the health of our workforce up and available to process the food. You're seeing all sorts of changes. It was mentioned on the pork side, not only are you feeing those animals a bit longer, trying to slow down the rate of gain, you are slowing down those births. So you've reduced your farrowings, reduced your calving so that you can begin to slow down what is happening in too much supply on our animal side of the equation.

Henderson: Bruce, in regards to the state's mental health system, policy makers at the state level have dedicated more money and attention to it over the past couple of years. Is there a concern now that because of this pandemic and the pinch that will be ongoing in state finances that that may come to a halt?

Buchanan: Yes, there is some concern about that. I think that one of the things that we're going to have some problems with when this is, in one sense, all over is how to accommodate all the individuals that we're now seeing through telehealth, because telehealth by virtue of the Governor's mandate was opened up for mental health. Mental health telehealth was really restrictive.

Henderson: Why?

Buchanan: It was just because of HIPPA issues, because of --

Yepsen: That's the health care privacy act.

Buchanan: That's the health care privacy act, correct. Because of certain ways that certain insurance companies wanted things to be dealt with, with regards to telehealth. Before the Governor took care of this issue if you lived in Rippey you would have to go to a physician in Rippey and then talk with me at the physician's office rather than be at home. But now you can be at home. So that has opened this up. So this has been wonderful. But the rebound is going to be --

Yepsen: Can that continue into the future?

Buchanan: No, it won't because the mandate I think the Governor signed it through June 1st and at June 1st everything then goes back so then we have to redo some things.

Yepsen: Let me get this straight, you or your folks have established a relationship over television with someone who has mental health issues and come June the TV goes dark?

Buchanan: Right because it changes the whole perspective. Insurance companies only pay for telehealth, a lot of insurance companies pay at 75% instead of the full fee if I was doing this in the office. There are certain types of technology kinds of pieces that would have to be changed.

Book: Bruce, is it also true that the insurance companies are not, have taken away the copay right now?

Buchanan: That's a great point. One of the wonderful things is that some of the insurance companies have taken away the copay. Blue Cross Wellmark was one of the first to do that even before it was mandated.

Book: United, our provider has done that.

Buchanan: United Behavioral, United Health has also done that as well. And she also then told the MCO's that they had to do that as well.

Henderson: Bruce, I'm wondering, you mentioned this earlier, but if I have a friend and I know they have a diagnosis or a relative, a family member, how is this situation exacerbating certain conditions like OCD or depression? And what should I as a concerned friend or family member be watching for and maybe helping them get help?

Buchanan: Yeah, so I have a great example of that and it's around the food kind of issue. I work with a woman who suffers from an anxiety disorder and when I saw her via telehealth just yesterday she was furious, angry, yelling at me. And I said, why are you yelling? Because they're getting rid of all the milk, they're throwing milk away. Why would they be throwing milk away? It was just this irrational -- I said to her, ma'am when I was on the farm I hand milked cattle and you can't turn the cattle's milk off, you just can't do that. What do you mean you can't -- and so I had to explain that to her and then she settled. Those are the types of things that, all those small little things blow things up.

Henderson: And we just had a question about this from April on Facebook. How does one with an existing anxiety deal with it?

Buchanan: Well, first of all, now is the time to contact mental health professionals in this state. You can get into see someone within 24 hours at our office and offices all across the state because I can see somebody in Fairfield from my office because of the current process. But some of the things are is that they have to stop watching television. I have four or five things I would recommend --

Henderson: Not right now.

Buchanan: But yeah.

Henderson: But what are some of the others?

Buchanan: Well, some of the others are calling a friend, talking with people and reaching out, getting some exercise in. We have problems with anxiety which leads to cortisol development in our blood stream and that's not good. That is good for us when we have to flight or fight, right, but not all the time. So it creates problems with that.

Yepsen: Professor Hart, I want to switch gears a little bit to the issue of unemployment insurance. Some people in the business community say that one of the unintended consequences of the additional assistance for people who are on, getting unemployment, is that between the unemployment check and the additional $600 payment you've created inadvertently, society has created a disincentive to work. Do you see that happening?

Hart: Well, I would say we can't really tell, I guess I'll put it this way. For some individuals that may be true, for others it is not. It depends upon that individual's value that they put upon work and how they want to proceed there. I think the other challenge here is just because people are applying for unemployment now doesn't mean they're receiving it that quickly. And so I think there's still a fairly hard incentive to find a job if you can.

Book: But there's a perception around that as well, David, around poverty. The people that we served at the Food Bank of Iowa and that other food banks across Iowa serve before COVID-19, 66% of those people, two-thirds of the people we served had jobs. Most of them had homes. Many of them had high school degrees. They just couldn't make ends meet. So there is a misconception about who uses these kinds of services and who needs the help.

Yepsen: Could this be one of the positive things to come out of this, that we start to break down some of the stigmas about getting food from a food bank or getting mental health services?

Book: I hope so. I think we are all in the same boat together rowing together to save our lives today and we are all now at a point where we can understand scarcity. People who live in poverty live in a place of scarcity. When you and I and all of us at this table know how hard it is to get the things we want today just to be brave enough to make the trip to the grocery store if you have anxiety and to get there and not have toilet paper. And all of us, each one of us know someone who is now unemployed, furloughed or is losing their career, dream because of COVID-19. So I think we're all here together and I hope we come out of this with an understanding of what it means to need a little help.

Yepsen: We've been knocking down the stigma on mental health?

Buchanan: Absolutely, and this in one sense is helping too because there's so much talk about this whole issue about mental health. One of the things that happens in this city, in this country, in this state is that people walk around at farmer's markets, for instance, and they're emotionally bleeding all over the ground but you don't see that. And now we're starting to talk about the emotional bleeding that people feel. And people are kind of going, okay, let's do some things. This has been a great thing, telehealth, for mental health, a great thing and I hope that the legislature continues to look at this and allow it to happen because it's just wonderful for people.

Henderson: Michelle Book, I want to ask you about something that people call food deserts. We have seen small town grocery stores start to close and so people have to drive farther to get wholesome food. Is this exacerbating this problem? And are food banks and food pantries able to fill that void?

Book: It is happening all across rural Iowa. I'll give you an example, I was in Wapello, Iowa, a couple of months ago I visited all of my pantry partners across 55 counties, I was in Wapello, Iowa, it's about 15 to 20 minutes to the nearest grocery store. They have a Dollar General. The day milk is delivered at Dollar General there is a sign that goes up in the window, m-i-l-k, milk. It's gone within an hour. So in Wapello the school has opened a food pantry. We provided them with a refrigerator, we provided them with a freezer, we truck food down to them twice a month and they serve the community. There are many people living in Wapello that don't even have a vehicle. You would be shocked at the homelessness and the unemployment that existed in small town Iowa before COVID-19.

Henderson: What would be the situation were schools not providing lunches at this time?

Book: Oh, it's devastating to these kids that were used to two or three, sometimes three meals a day from school and the families that were relying upon that and everybody is home right now, we had before COVID-19 we were supporting 100 school pantries across our geography, middle schools, high schools, elementary schools and the whole family relied on that food. Backpack Program is a great thing for the kids for weekend food but it only serves that one child. There’s always another child and the guardian that's hungry.

Yepsen: Aren't our schools really starting to become a food delivery service? We're going to eventually go to a point where every kid in Iowa to avoid stigmatizing anybody is going to get access to two meals a day all year long? Isn't that what our schools are morphing into?

Book: Des Moines public schools is almost 100% free and reduced and across Iowa rural schools are about 50% free and reduced and I think this will help, COVID-19, this will help destigmatize getting food assistance as well. But these kids need help and right now when folks are unemployed at home, they've got college kids home, they have kids home, wow, there's a lot of pressure on that food budget.

Henderson: Chad Hart, I'm wondering about your thoughts on a complaint that we hear as reporters from small businesses who had to shut down. They can't sell shoes, they can't sell clothes but then they look at the big box store that is still open because the big box store sells food but they're still selling clothes and shoes at the same time. Is this going to reorient retail the longer the closures last?

Hart: It will definitely reorient retail as this goes on. The longer we see this pattern the more likely for those small businesses to not come back and we'll see continued consolidation across many sectors within our economy.

Henderson: Is there any government intervention in your view that would perhaps stop the slide that we've all seen as people go on Amazon and order things delivered to their door?

Hart: Well, as you think about the small business programs that were rolled out through the CARES Act, that was exactly the target that they had in mind, trying to keep those small businesses viable and running at a time when they had no other source of income.

Yepsen: Professor Hart, change the subject, the federal government is responding to this by dumping lots of money in, to paraphrase the late Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, a trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon you're talking about real money. Isn't at some point the bill going to come due for all of this spending? And isn't part of the cure of that going to be some pretty good inflation? 

Hart: The bill will come due, the question is when, and that really depends upon if you will the global community. So far folks around the world continue to support our U.S. Treasury, our U.S. bonds and as long as that is remaining sort of under control we're able to utilize the power of the federal purse to support the economy right now and not face tremendous inflation. But eventually there will come a day of reckoning.

Yepsen: Is there a danger that the Chinese, with whom we're having our differences these days, just say to us we're not going to loan you any more money?

Hart: It's not just the Chinese you need to worry about. When you think about it's China, it's Japan, Europe, the idea is right now we're seeing a sort of investment in the U.S. across the globe and they're the ones helping us maintain this low interest rate, low inflation environment despite what is happening here.

Yepsen: I want to switch gears to a viewer question and we'll give this to you, Bruce. Kevin in Dubuque writes, I live in a group home in Dubuque. Would doing outside work like yard work be beneficial if we're practicing social distancing?

Buchanan: Absolutely. Being outside, going outside, being in the sun, being able to do work, wonderful thing that is just a beautiful thing to do for anxiety. I've recommended for numbers of my clients to go take a drive, to go to a friend's house and have some time sitting in the driveway with their friend, keeping social distancing, but having a driveway party, having driveway cookout where then the people bring their own utensils and somebody cooks the food and then they go over and get it. Food and mental health are connected. It's really important for people to understand that, that if people aren't properly nutritioned it creates problems with anxiety, depression, all of those things that we talk about. So that is a real concerning issue.

Yepsen: Here is a question from John Norwood of West Des Moines and it is a question to each of you. What should we be doing that we aren't? Professor Hart, do you want to take a swing at that?

Hart: Well, I guess I'll say first, like we've been doing, practicing a lot of patience. I think what we're seeing across our country is a lot of folks are trying to rectify the shortages we're finding, work around the virus that we have and one of the biggest things we need to have is patience with each other because as we rework the food system, for example, we will find spot shortages, we will have some issues out there. But for the most part we are getting food available, we are trying to figure out ways to run businesses and we're looking to build our way out of this.

Yepsen: Mr. Buchanan, what should we be doing that we're not?

Buchanan: I think that one of the things that we should be doing is planning, quite frankly, for this next future component and the next six months around mental health services to try to develop some proactive process that we can do within the context of helping people move forward.

Yepsen: Michelle Book?

Book: If you need help, get help. Every single county across Iowa offers services. There is a food pantry, a school pantry in your community. If you need help, get help. If you can help, help. Donate a dollar, donate your time. Our system has crashed from the number of people that have come into our website to sign up to volunteer. People want to help. So also I'd say let's prepare for that is going to happen when we do start to open things up. Do people know how to wash their hands? Do they know how to social distance? How can we do this safely?

Buchanan: Can I add one thing?

Yepsen: Sure.

Buchanan: Volunteering is one of the number things that decreases depression. We know when people go out and they volunteer they're less likely to suffer from really intense depression. It's amazing.

Book: I have volunteers contacting me to say thank you.

Henderson: Michelle, I've heard though that some people are reluctant to volunteer because they are in the groups that should not.

Book: So we are an essential service, Food Bank of Iowa and the other food banks across the state of Iowa are operating as usual, doing more than we've ever done before. But we are washing hands, we're six feet apart, gloves, masks, and when volunteers come into our facility first we take their temperature, they wash their hands, they glove up, they mask up. Have you had a fever or a cough in the last 72 hours? Has anybody in your family had that in the last 72 hours? So we ask a litany of questions and then we station them six feet apart, duct tape is an amazing wonderful thing, but we station them six feet apart to do their work and observe to make sure that they are continuing to uphold sanitary conditions while they're in our facility.

Yepsen: Michelle Book, I've got a question from Craig who admits it's far out but he wants to know, is it too far out to suggest to deer hunters who may know something about harvesting meat carcasses to have them harvest hogs that are backing up at home for food pantries? We've all seen these pictures from the Depression and farm activists in the mid-50s of farmers having to shot hogs and dump milk. What about an alternative like this?

Book: Well, we have had 55 lockers across the state of Iowa that have participated in the HUSH program in the last few years. And the HUSH program is a DNR sponsored program where deer hunters donate a carcass to feeding hungry Iowans. It's processed at a locker and there are 55 of them that we've worked with in the past year and then those carcasses come to their nearest food bank. But to have somebody process at home today we have very strict regulations. These lockers that we work with are USDA certified lockers. So we have to continue to keep food safety front and foremost. Now, I trust my dad to cut up a hog because Mark Book knows how to cut up a hog. But I wouldn't say for general consumption that we can do that and still maintain our high, high safety of our food supply.

Henderson: Bruce, Christopher on YouTube sends this question. I've heard states experience huge spikes in suicides. Do we have hotlines to call in Iowa?

Buchanan: Yes we do. However, most if not all of the clinicians and the clinics that I know of that have mental health clinics have somebody that is on all 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So you not only have the state sponsored lines, hotlines, but you can also call an individual clinic. People kind of get this misnomer about the fact that if they have something wrong with them they have to see a psychiatrist. No, psychiatrists provide medication but they don't do therapy. More therapy is done by licensed clinicians than psychiatrists.

Yepsen: Mr. Buchanan, Jeff Puffer from Marion, Iowa says, I've only made a couple of trips to run errands lately but my impression has been that the general public is behaving oddly, more aggressive than usual on the roads, standoffish in public and short-tempered. Are these legitimate perceptions?

Buchanan: Those are legitimate perceptions. They're due to the anxiety and the depression issues and the heightened anxiety and the cortisol kind of issue that is raging through the body. So the more we can have people quite frankly get out and walk and exercise and call friends and go and take the time to send emails of encouragement to people on your email list.

Yepsen: What do you do when you encounter someone like that?

Buchanan: Well, give them their distance of course. And really be able to when they are mad be able to not react to their anger and escalate anger. Anger escalates anger. The reality is that people express anger but that's not typically what they're feeling. Anger is a secondary emotion, it's not a primary emotion. When people are sad, worried, fearful, etcetera they don't typically talk in those terms. They talk at anger. And so when people can say hey I'm sorry you're having a hard day today, mister, I know what that feels like, to gain some sense of kind of connectiveness that way and then move on.

Yepsen: Walk away from it.

Buchanan: Walk away.

Yepsen: Professor Hart, one of the outcomes in the Great Depression was the world electrification administration. Could one of the things that comes out of this to be a serious effort to get everybody broadband connectivity? I've heard politicians talk about that for about as long as I've been a journalist in this state, 30 some years. And could this be the thing that finally pushes that through?

Hart: This will definitely help. True, it's been in every Farm Bill I think since I moved up here to Iowa in 1990. So we've seen that push but I think with this outbreak what you see is the definite need, if you will, it's that essential service especially as we look at our school children where we can't take them to school so the only way we're able to educate right now is either at home or online. So it is forcing and showing that need that we have to have Internet access not just in the urban areas but throughout the entire state and the entire country.

Henderson: Michelle Book, Merle from Decorah has called in this question. When you call the food stamp number no one seems to know much about when additional funds may be allocated. What would your advice be to Merle?

Book: We operate, the association of food banks in Iowa operates a hotline and it's a SNAP assistance hotline. We help sign people up for benefits. That's a tough one. Food assistance has been a challenge, it has been a very political issue. I can't help much with that right now. I know it's a moving target. They have gotten more food into the system but SNAP benefits we don't have an answer yet. Maybe you know more?

Hart: Not yet. And so I think, again, I'll ask for patience there. But the idea is that when you think about, for example, all the provisions of the CARES Act, we're still figuring out some of the rules and regulations that go around the programs that Congress passed. It does take some time in order to translate from a congressional vote to benefits flowing through the system.

Henderson: Chad Hart, folks have been talking about pork processing and they have been talking about beef processing. The one thing that hasn't been discussed much is poultry and we have a huge poultry presence in Iowa. Is that because they went through the bird flu and did all sorts of changes in their processes and maybe aren't experiencing these problems in the way that some other parts of the meat production industry are?

Hart: They are facing their own set of challenges. So for example here if you look at our egg industry, what we have noticed is that the layer side of the system seems to be doing fine. If you're doing table eggs, for example, for home usage there we have plenty of supply. Where we're running into problems is what are known as breaker eggs, so the eggs that go into all sorts of foods that are packaged foods, used at restaurants, so on and so forth. There we have an oversupply where we're trying to figure out what do we do with these eggs.

Henderson: Like cake mixes?

Hart: And so you're seeing, just like we were talking about dumping milk earlier, we have seen some eggs, if you will, have to be disposed of because we just cannot process them in a way that meets consumer needs right now.

Book: We can't find egg cartons. We cannot find enough egg cartons to accommodate all of those eggs and those eggs come in bladders for restaurant and institutional use. And again, it's not easy to convert those to family table use and just right now finding egg cartons is a challenge.

Yepsen: Professor Hart, you mentioned some of the things that Congress has done and we've talked about the cost of this stuff. There is an effort underway for yet another bill. They've had two and people are talking about what needs to be in a third bill. Leader McConnell isn't keen on it but we'll see. What do you see there, you've looked at these early pieces of legislation, what else needs to be in a third or another assistance bill coming out of Congress?

Hart: Well, I'd say the two biggest things that probably haven't been addressed fully yet would be food stamps, the SNAP program, and also help for state and local governments. When you look we've tried to support personal incomes, we've tried to support small businesses, agriculture has received at least an injection of funds as well. And so when you're thinking about what are the big ticket items that are still out there I would argue it's probably local and state governments and food assistance programs because we know that the need is growing greatly by leaps and bounds over the last few weeks and continues to grow today.

Henderson: We have a few questions from viewers who are concerned about, as one of them put it, jumping the gun to end up with more people infected if things are sped, if the reopening of businesses are sped up. As you look at other states, Professor Hart, have you seen a state that you think has gotten it right so far?

Hart: Remember I'm an economist, not a public health individual. And so in this case I don't think we know. I think when you're looking, for example, we know Georgia is moving very aggressively. On the other hand I believe Illinois today extended their stay at home through the end of May. So you're seeing vastly different approaches across the states.

Yepsen: Minnesota seems to be having better numbers than Iowa in terms of the death rate and numbers of cases identified. Do you know what they're doing up there that we could be emulating?

Hart: I cannot say.

Yepsen: I want to go back to this inflation question with you. Iowa has some of the lowest per capita levels of public debt of any state in the country and Iowans like that, we don't like debt. But are we missing an opportunity here for governments to be borrowing money at these low interest rates for one-time infrastructure projects and knowing that we're going to be able to pay those loans with cheap, inflated dollars?

Hart: Well, that's the deal, when you're looking here interest rates are low, it is an opportunity for that. And when you think about when do you want a government in deficit spending it is in times of crisis. That is the idea of what governments are meant to do. When other sectors of the economy are falling apart you depend upon the government to sort of stabilize until the other sectors can improve again. And so people ask about the debt, and I'm like it's not the debt we're incurring today that is the problem, it's the debt that we've been building up before this that put us in the hole that we're in.

Yepsen: But we could borrow a billion dollars and still have a lower per capita level of debt than most states. We're very frugal, maybe too frugal.

Hart: Quite possibly.

Henderson: Chad Hart, farmers have been getting trade adjustment payments, I think that's what they're called. Is that what they're called?

Hart: Market facilitation payments.

Henderson: Thank you for that correction. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced this week that there will be more payments to farmers but not to the ethanol industry. Give us an analysis of what is happening in that industry. You just heard ADM laying off people this week.

Hart: When we look at our ethanol sector what we have seen is a dramatic shutdown and slow down of many plants. Across the state of Iowa here I know of at least nine ethanol plants that have shut down, many more have slowed down their production and the analogy here is with the pork industry, they're slowing down trying to allow, if you will, dropping supplies to match the demand that they have right now. Along with that the ethanol industry is facing the sort of implosion of the oil market. When you think of oil prices going negative earlier this month the idea is there are all sorts of economic pressures that are also pushing down on the ethanol sector here. So we're seeing losses not only in terms of production but in pricing and concerns about long-term demand for the product.

Henderson: We have a question from Helen Jensen from Ames and this will go to Michelle Book. You've been talking at the table about changes in production, handling and managing animals and linking processors to food banks. She wonders looking forward, do you see any changes in the food system to build in more flexibility and other long-term changes as a result of what is happening?

Book: I sure hope so. When you look at all of our manufacturing, I don't care if it's ventilators, face masks, or if it's food production, we have found that it's very difficult for us to pivot quickly in the United States. So I hope one thing that comes out of this is that we do build some ability to pivot, to be flexible within our manufacturing processes. And I don't care if it is a ventilator or if it's eggs. How do we get those from one place to the other as efficiently as possible? I don't think this is going to be our last big scary virus or our last big scary population altering event. We've got to be able to take care of our people and we have seen across so many manufacturing sectors that that has been a stumbling block for us.

Yepsen: Chad Hart, what about that? Shouldn't the food sector retool? I read a piece today that even when this thing is over Americans aren't going back to dining out as much.

Hart: No, we will see definite adjustments there. But at the same time too it depends on each industry as to how they respond and how they adjust. I've joked that what we may see is sort of a Back to the Future comment where we'll see more reliance on having inventory, for example. If you think back to the sort of economic activity we've had over the past few decades we have made everything just in time or it is developed, processed and delivered very quickly. We have for the most part eliminated most of those inventories that would help cushion us through this blow. And so maybe we'll see rebuilding of that.

Yepsen: Mr. Buchanan, I want to turn to a subject we haven't talked about tonight, domestic abuse. Barb from Muscatine asks, what is being done to make sure that children are not being abused. Stress causes more abuse and Barb is worried about children since they aren't in school right now.

Buchanan: Yes, so this is a real concern for the Department of Human Services, this is a real concern for mental health professionals all across our state. And the reason is because of course we have people now battened down at home with their children and the increase in anxiety and frustration not only for the parents but also for the kids just creates this kind of smoldering pot and unfortunately we don't know, we're going to know in probably three to six months when things open up a little bit more, but we don't know right now what the exact whole process is because people are being turned away from hospitals with their children who are hurt or harmed. We just don't know yet. We have lots of concerns about it.

Yepsen: The anecdotal evidence that I get from lawyer friends is that the number of divorces are, will be on the rise, the number of bankruptcies. Do you see that in your practice?

Buchanan: A number of divorces, a number of bankruptcies, a number of relationship kinds of issues, we're getting more calls like that. I'm hoping that people are going to take the opportunity to try to call somebody about their mental health because most of the time people had a stigma about going to a mental health clinic but now they can call and find out that these people are human too.

Yepsen: What should an individual do who thinks my neighbor or my friend across the street may have a mental health problem or that there may be some domestic abuse going on in that house? What are the kinds of things, anything that people can do to intercede in those?

Buchanan: Yes, people if they are sincere can call local authorities and request a welfare check. A welfare check can go out to any police department and the police department will go and check on those individuals and see if they're okay. But it really is, it takes a community. It really does.

Book: And with kids out of school now those welfare checks are at an all-time low because our school, our teachers, the school nurse, the counselors used to offer a lot of those referrals and they've gone silent now. So the kids, when they used to get that kind of supervision at school, they got fed at school, they got supervision at school, they got dental checks at school, if we don't come out of this really being grateful for what our schools do for our kids then we are crazy.

Yepsen: And when you say welfare checks you're talking about a teacher sees a situation where there may be abuse --

Book: And they are mandatory reporters.

Yepsen: And they can ask someone to check on the welfare of those --

Book: Yes, there are a lot of claims that go into DHS from the school environment and it just isn't happening now because the kids aren't in school.

Henderson: This one is for Michelle and it comes from Don Copenhaver, and I hope I'm pronouncing your name correctly. He is the treasurer of the Durant-Wilton food pantry and his question is, we aren't sure how to plan for the level of demand in June because we aren't sure how long schools are going to continue providing food. What is your advice to folks like John?

Book: Thank you for what you're doing. Thank you very much for what you're doing. We can't, the food banks can't operate without the pantries in these small towns. Right now we are preparing for the fact that kids will not be back in school, that there will be no large gatherings through the remainder of 2020. We don't know that, but that's what we're planning for today. So I really think as we move into the summer and there's more pressure on the limited resources that people have that there's going to be more demand on those small town pantries. They get their food from the food banks and we're stepping up our resources to make sure we can get more to them. But I think they should continue to plan on increased need.

Henderson: I just heard you say the rest of the calendar year. Is that correct? 

Book: I did say that. That's what we are planning for at this time. And I know that schools are being asked to put together their distance planning for the fall. There have been no decisions made, that will be the Governor that will make that kind of a call when the time comes, but I know people are planning in the event that should occur.

Henderson: Bruce, we have a caller and I'm glad he was able to share this. He says, I've lost my job, my income, I do have Social Security and it was seven days late. When do I know I'm having normal stress? And when do I need intervention? Where's the line?

Buchanan: That's a really great question? Where is normal and where is not? When do you need that help? So when you're finding yourself staying up more than two to three days in terms of only getting one to two hours of rest, finding yourself continuing to be agitated all the time, feeling enclosed in, not being able to calm yourself down. I recommend that people don't watch television in terms of news, only 30 minutes a day at most of the news. There's those types of things. And the wonderful thing is that individual can call one of the hotlines or can call an office such as ours or one in their local community.

Henderson: We don't have much time left. Michelle, this question comes from YouTube wondering about SNAP benefits. If you do the math, $194 a month, three meals a day, how would you adjust the SNAP program?

Book: The SNAP program right now is based on a level of federal budget that is very minimal. The average SNAP benefit that is provided today is $1.40 per meal and I think all of us can agree that you can't provide a good meal for $1.40. SNAP benefits aren't meant to be 100% of the solution, they are meant to fill a gap. SNAP benefits will not be all end all and that is where the food pantries come into play. Visit your local food pantry. You should be able to get a two week supply of food from a local food pantry.

Yepsen: We've covered a lot of ground today. We've only got a couple of minutes left. Is 5there anything you think we've overlooked in this discussion or that you think is particularly important for policy makers to know, the Governor, legislators, local officials?

Book: We are going to see an increased need through the remainder of 2020 even if we were to reopen the economy, totally reopen the economy let's say end of June. We are going to see the economic ripple effect through 2020 into 2021 and people are going to continue to need help.

Buchanan: Allow people to continue to utilize telehealth and do it in their homes as we move forward through this process. It’s going to be important.

Hart: And when we look at rolling ourselves out here again, it will be the virus that sort of determines what that economic pathway looks going forward because until the virus is sort of in control we don't know how quickly we can bring back the economy and in fact it could be, we're worried about that boomerang effect, if we try to come back too quickly we could do more damage than good.

Yepsen: What should policy makers do? More tests?

Hart: I think more testing. When you look at what Governor Reynolds has proposed with Test Iowa and ramping up the testing that way, it's a way to try to assess where are we at with this outbreak? How many folks actually have had it? What we really don't know is how many of those asymptomatic individuals are running right now around the Iowa landscape and trying to figure out just how big the outbreak actually is.

Yepsen: I want to thank each of you for taking time to be with us. Tough conversation but I appreciate your candor and your help here. Thank you all.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week on Iowa Press, Friday night at 7:30 with a rebroadcast at noon on Sunday morning. For our viewing audience, if you have suggestions for Iowa Press topics in the coming weeks, you can email our staff at For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.




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