The Iowa Department of Human Rights (DHR) is a state agency with a mission to ensure basic rights, freedoms, and opportunities for all by empowering underrepresented Iowans and eliminating economic, social, and cultural barriers. DHR has never been better positioned to achieve real results in ensuring all Iowans have the opportunities to contribute to and benefit from the state’s economic, cultural and social opportunities. Through administering programs to fight poverty in Iowa communities, utilizing data to support public safety and to better understand trends in criminal and juvenile justice, and assisting Iowans of racial/ethnic minority groups and those with disabilities in individual and policy advocacy, DHR is a critical resource for all Iowans.
DHR’s core functions are administration of federal programs to help low income families, research and data analysis pertaining to juvenile and criminal justice issues, and advocacy and services to Iowans who have historically been marginalized. DHR undertook statutory reorganization in 2010 as part of the omnibus government reorganization bill, SF2088. The Department has significantly streamlined its administrative functions and is better aligned to pursue an integrated strategy to achieve its vision: a more productive and inclusive Iowa.
The Division of Community Action Agencies (DCAA) administers federal and state programs through a network of local community action agencies and other community organizations to assist families and individuals living in poverty to achieve economic and social self-sufficiency. The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These federal funds are distributed to Iowa’s 18 community action agencies, which create, coordinate, and deliver a variety of programs and services to low-income Iowans to combat the causes of poverty in their communities. In partnership with the Iowa Department of Human Services, the Family Development and Self-Sufficiency grant program (FaDSS) program provides comprehensive in-home services to at-risk families through certified Family Development Specialists to assist families in developing and implementing strategies for self-sufficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy funds the Division’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the nation’s largest residential energy efficiency program. The program reduces energy costs for low-income persons, particularly the elderly, disabled, and families with children, by improving the energy efficiency of their homes and ensuring their health and safety. The federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is designed to assist qualifying low-income households in the payment of a portion of their winter heating costs, and to encourage energy conservation through client education and weatherization. The Individual Development Accounts (IDA) program was established in 2009 to encourage low-income working Iowans to establish savings accounts for long-term asset development that lead to family self-sufficiency. Participants can qualify for up to $2,000 in state matching funds to pay for higher education or job training costs, purchase a home, start a small business, or pay for emergency medical costs, an automobile, or assistive technology for a family member with a disability. Savers also participate in financial education courses and asset-specific education.
The Division of Community Advocacy and Services (CAS) is a newly created division under reorganization of the Department of Human Rights to support and streamline service to several different customer bases. The CAS helps the State of Iowa to fulfill its commitment to diversity with a high level of efficiency and effectiveness. The Division of Community Advocacy and Services (CAS) houses seven offices: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Latinos, Women, Persons with Disabilities, and people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. These offices work together to study issues affecting Iowans with a history of being marginalized. Each office administers programs and advocates for policies that support greater success for its customer populations. In addition, each office is responsible for collecting and analyzing data about customer populations. This data assists in determining programming and helps to expand culturally affirmative services throughout state government. Daily advocacy efforts on behalf of customers assists them to navigate federal, state and local resources for maximum participation in and benefit to Iowa’s economic, social, and cultural opportunities. Whether helping persons access interpreting services so they can receive health care, educating Iowans in the private sector about the value of employing persons with disabilities, or promoting laws and policies to eliminate discrimination and create equity, CAS staff offer individualized and responsive services that build a bridge between underserved and underrepresented Iowans and government.
The location of the Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning (CJJP) in the Department of Human Rights ensures its independence from operational agencies in conducting research, planning, data coordination, and information clearinghouse functions. The Administrator of CJJP reports administratively to the Director of the Department of Human Rights, but on policy issues is also responsible to two statutory councils, the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning Advisory Council and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council. To facilitate CJJP’s receiving otherwise confidential data from state and local agencies, specific statutory language exists to ensure CJJP access to relevant justice system information. This access has given CJJP a unique capability to provide data and information system-related assistance across agencies and to study and report on Iowa’s multi-faceted justice system from a neutral, objective position in state government. CJJP also provides staff support to three other entities. Recent legislation established the Public Safety Advisory Board to provide assistance to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches in developing sound criminal justice policy and legislation. The Sex Offender Research Council provides input to the executive and legislative branches on matters relating to sex offenses and offenders. Finally, the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) Advisory Board provides guidance to the Division’s CJIS project.
The Department of Human Rights board consists of 11 voting and five nonvoting members. Their responsibilities include developing and monitoring a strategic plan, approving the budget recommended by the director, adopting administrative rules, and approving an annual report to the general assembly and governor.