ELECTION 2020

Abby Finkenauer says she's prioritizing federal investment in rural communities

Rep. Abby Finkenauer works with other volunteers to load batteries into flashlights at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids
Rep. Abby Finkenauer works with other volunteers to load batteries into flashlights at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit disaster food aid organization, procured two thousand flashlights after a request from Rep. Finkenauer. WCK will distribute them as part of their mission in the Cedar Rapids area as approximately 20 percent of Alliant customers were without power Tuesday evening. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — More federal investment in infrastructure, child care and student debt relief will be key to restoring Iowa’s economy, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, told a Cedar Rapids business development group.

Much of her focus in her first term in the House has been rural investment and development, Finkenauer told the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Impact CR. In the 1st Congressional District, that means finding resources not only for the economic hubs — Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo-Cedar Falls, but also the smaller communities across all 20 counties of the district.

How well those small towns and rural areas are doing affects those economic hubs, “and depending on how you’re doing affects them,” Finkenauer said.

“So we’ve got to make sure that everybody is strong here and that these investments are getting everywhere in our communities and not just to our bigger cities.”

Finkenauer, who grew up in a small town outside Dubuque, said she’s seen so many friends move away after high school or college, “and I want them to be able to come back home.”

In addition, as people deal with COVID-19, many are thinking about moving to smaller towns or moving back to where they grew up in Iowa.

“This is why we’ve got to get so many things right coming through this pandemic to stimulate growth again,” she said.

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Finkenauer, who said she could “talk about infrastructure all day long,” told the groups during a virtual forum Tuesday that she’s looking for federal support for more than updating Mississippi River locks and dams, highways and bridges, and building out broadband. If Iowa is going to grow its communities and economy, it also needs affordable, quality child care and ways to help younger workers with student debt.

The need for child care has risen to a “fever pitch” during the pandemic, Finkenauer said.

“Child care, in particular, is something that really ties into the rural development piece, but also entrepreneurship, because you can’t start a business if you don’t have reliable, quality child care,” she said. It has been a focus of her work on the Rural Development subcommittee of the House Small Business Committee she chairs.

Because of the lack of child care resources, she said, Iowa is losing young people who might take a risk by starting their own business.

Another barrier to growth — both population and the economy, according to Finkenauer — is student debt, which can prevent Iowans from staying here after completing their education or returning to Iowa after living elsewhere.

Finkenauer, 31, said she still has about $20,000 in college debt, which is much less than many people she knows.

Student debt, she said, also can keep people from starting businesses.

She said she would like to create a program to provide student debt relief to people who settle in communities where populations have been stagnant or declining. One approach would be for the federal government to match what businesses are willing to contribute to paying off student debt.

Research has shown that if a person stays in one community for eight years, they are likely to remain there. So Finkenauer would increase the amount of debt forgiveness each year a person stayed in those targeted communities.

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Early voting ahead of Election Day, Nov. 3, is underway in Iowa. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 24.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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