CORONAVIRUS

Iowa allocating CARES funds to aid small businesses, renters, homeowners

State reports 20 more COVID-19 deaths Friday

Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Friday at the state emergency operations center in Johnston. (Olivia Sun/Des M
Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Friday at the state emergency operations center in Johnston. (Olivia Sun/Des Moines Register)

Iowa will begin allocating $700 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to help residents and businesses cope with the economic impact of the pandemic, including rent and mortgage assistance to Iowans at immediate risk of eviction or foreclosure.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan calls for using most of the state’s $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — or CARES Act — funds to help small businesses and support K-12 distance learning, rural hospitals, telehealth, farmers and ethanol producers.

She said she will hold back $550 million as the state monitors the impact of joblessness due to the virus on the Unemployment Trust Fund and for unforeseen COVID-19 expenses, Reynolds said at her daily news briefing Friday.

Although she doesn’t know how many Iowans will seek foreclosure and eviction assistance, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham said the program has been designed to accept as many as 20,000 applications. Applications are at iowahousingrecovery.com.

Homeowners will be able to receive up to $3,000 in assistance on mortgage payments and renters are eligible for as much as $3,200 in aid. Payments will be made directly to mortgage holders and landlords, she said.

Sixty-six days after Iowa’s first COVID-19 death, another 20 fatalities were reported Friday morning, bringing the total to 520, according to Iowa Department of Public Health. There were five deaths in Polk County, four in Wapello, three in Dallas, two in Woodbury and one each in Black Hawk, Dubuque, Mahaska, Marshall, Monroe and Pottawattamie counties.

An additional 269 cases reported raised to 18,791 the total number of Iowans who have been infected with the coronavirus.

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Also, 3,948 tests were conducted, including 2,503 by Test Iowa, the Utah-based company the state hired under a $26 million contract.

It’s “exciting,” Reynolds said, that testing has been near capacity for the last three days.

Reynolds credited “fiscally responsible budgeting practices” with putting Iowa in a strong financial position before COVID-19 impacted the state. At the end of fiscal 2019, Iowa had a surplus of nearly $300 million, reserve funds were full and the labor participation rate was one of the highest in the country.

Since then, revenues have slowed and the unemployment rate has soared. With 13,365 new unemployment claims filed over the past week, there are 180,679 Iowans out of work, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

So Reynolds earmarked $215 million to help small businesses reopen and put Iowans back to work and to assist homeowners and renters.

Her plans also calls for $100 million in aid for farmers as well as ethanol producers, which are operating at 70 percent capacity. Funds also will support food banks.

Another $125 million will go to local governments that have seen revenue decline during forced business shutdowns that have limited receipts from sales, gas and hotel-motel taxes while COVID-19 related expenses have increased. To help them begin the recovery process, the aid will cover their 10 percent of a match required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Health care providers will get $50 million to support substance abuse and behavioral health services and $85 million will be used to extend access to telehealth, telework and telelearning.

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“To do that, our state must address broadband capacity and access as well as modernizing our (information technology) system that is necessary for conducting business, education, health care and life from rural communities to the state Capitol,” Reynolds said.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst joined Reynolds’s briefing to talk about the funding Congress has provided in response to the pandemic. That includes more than $5 billion of paycheck protection loans to 54,000 Iowa businesses and $2.7 billion in direct economic assistance payments to 1.7 million Iowans.

She said she is working to include more funding for farmers and child care providers in the next round of COVID-19 relief assistance.

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

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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All donations are tax-deductible.