Jilting the vulnerable

The most vulnerable among us are again on the bottom of the heap. Genesis Development of Storm Lake plans to discontinue redeeming bottles and cans for their nickel deposit because of changes in mental health rules. Now, handicapped people cannot work exclusively in a sheltered work activity center sorting cans. They are required to get jobs in the community so they are “integrated” better. Hence, those who are not found job placement outside the work activity center will have little productive to do.

Integrating the handicapped into the community through the workplace is laudable. But it’s not for everyone. We think of the people 60-some years old who have never worked anyplace but Genesis. They love reporting for work there. Some of the people we know would not do well in a dispersed job setting. Genesis is their workplace, their social sphere, their support structure. This is where their friends are, the people who understand them best and care about them most.

If bottles and cans fetched more, Genesis might be able to start another business in container redemption that would fit the new rules. As it stands, Genesis cannot afford to spin off the redemption business because it’s a loser.

Iowa’s can and bottle redemption law passed in 1978 with a nickel deposit on aluminum cans and glass bottles. It’s still a nickel, 35 years later. The payout to Genesis from the distributor (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser, Miller) is a penny, the same as 35 years ago. Plastic bottles, like those ubiquitous water bottles, are not redeemable. They are filling up landfills with their petroleum base.

Thankfully, someone cares.

Iowa Senate Human Resources Committee Chairwoman Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, told us on Tuesday that a mental health interim study committee chaired by Sen. Joe Bolckom, D-Iowa City, will meet to discuss how to help work activity centers next month. Our senator, Mark Segebart, R-Vail, is a member of the study committee.

“It is something that truly concerns us,” she said.

We caught her at a bad time. She was preparing a meal for Wednesday at a Mason City soup kitchen, where she directs a regional nutrition program for the poor.

She had to run, but she pledged that Senate Democrats would not leave these most vulnerable citizens out in the cold. We know Sen. Bolckom fairly well. You would not find a more decent man. We are confident Bolckom will find a solution, we hope with Segebart’s help.

Also, Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, has again introduced a bill to expand the bottle law to plastic containers and up the payment to redemption centers to 2¢ each. That might help Genesis launch a solvent redemption center and stay within these silly rules.

We cannot stand by and just let a few handicapped people fall through the cracks. These are real lives that will be made poorer without meaningful, productive employment. For shame that we would abandon them. We are counting on our friends in the legislature to protect the least among us.

Listen to the neighbors

The Storm Lake Planning and Zoning Commission would do well to ignore a small portion of a city zoning map put forward by a consultant and staff after a long planning process. The area in question sits between Buena Vista University and Methodist Manor and would be rezoned from residential to institutional. Many homeowners in the neighborhood are concerned that it could affect their ability to sell their home. A lender reportedly told one of the neighbors that the zoning change could affect the buyer’s ability to get a home loan.

That’s reason enough to kill the change. There are others.

First, neither Buena Vista nor Methodist Manor have asked for the change, city officials say. It would be different if a project were on the front burner. But that’s not the case.

Second, BVU and Methodist Manor each can grow a different direction — BVU to the north and Methodist Manor to the west.

Third, Scout Park separates the neighborhood from the lakeshore. It is a lovely little area that makes for a nice family setting. Street access to the park helps fishermen find their catch and dog runners a large place to play. The area feels family residential despite being bordered by two large institutions.

Finally, the neighbors are death on the idea. Some are jaded enough to think that something is cooking against them. That is not the case, we’re sure. The commission could convince the skeptics by leaving this neighborhood alone. Voices will have been heard, process will have been respected and participatory democracy will have worked.