IOWA DERECHO 2020

Hurricane must not distract FEMA from derecho needs in Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst says

Sen. Joni Ernst carries a package of food to a family's trunk at the HACAP Mobile Food Pantry at Veterans Memorial Stadi
Sen. Joni Ernst carries a package of food to a family’s trunk at the HACAP Mobile Food Pantry at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

VINTON — A day after praising President Donald Trump’s quick response to the derecho that ripped through Iowa earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst promised to keep pressure on the administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see the recovery through.

“I know the hurricane — God bless those folks down South,” she said Thursday, “but this issue needs to be taken care of as well.”

FEMA’s focus “needs to be here, focused on this disaster” in Iowa, Ernst said.

She doesn’t want FEMA to be distracted by Hurricane Laura, which is causing damage along the Gulf Coast, “because we still have those individuals and families as well as our local governments that are struggling through this.”

“They can’t neglect us even though there are other issues going on,” the Iowa Republican said after participating in a celebration marking the transfer of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School campus to the city of Vinton. The Benton County seat is working with a private developer on a $20 million commercial, retail and housing project.

FEMA reportedly has 30 people on the ground in the Cedar Rapids area — “a significant number,” Ernst said.

However, she and her staff are hearing frustrations about FEMA being inaccessible. She called for FEMA to be understanding of the challenges Iowans are facing as they try to apply for assistance.

Ernst and area legislators point out that many residents have limited or no internet and cellphone service.

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“If they have to do everything on a mobile phone, they may have issues navigating some of those screens,” Ernst said. “It’s frustrating. We need to make sure that our families are getting the proper response, and it’s just been a struggle so far.”

The president has approved FEMA individual assistance for Linn County residents, but aid for other counties is pending. If those counties meet the federal thresholds, Ernst is confident Trump will approve aid there.

“We will keep pressing,” she said. “I know there are things that will turn up in the weeks following the derecho, other issues that will add to that. So we’ll keep on FEMA.”

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

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