IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa Senate OKs $20 million in flood aid

Democrats say it's not enough for areas hit last year

In this Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019 photo, a barn sits in floodwaters in Pacific Junction, Iowa. Flooding along the Missouri
In this Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019 photo, a barn sits in floodwaters in Pacific Junction, Iowa. Flooding along the Missouri River has stretched on for seven months in places and could endure through the winter, leaving some Upper Midwest farmland and possibly some homes encased in ice. The icy flooding is possibly due to a still-high river, saturated ground, broken levees and a forecast for a wetter-than normal winter. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

DES MOINES — The GOP-run Iowa Senate on Thursday passed a $20 million flood aid package to repair damaged levees and help struggling communities, but minority Democrats called it a “slow-walk,” drop in the bucket, given the state’s surplus position and pressing needs in weather-ravaged areas.

“We are following a plan that the experts advise,” said Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, floor manager of Senate File 2144, which passed 48-0 Thursday.

He said the legislation — the first passed in the 2020 session — is designed to get state matching funds to priority projects without jeopardizing federal money.

The supplemental appropriation next goes to the Iowa House.

Assuming the House agrees, and Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the measure, the money will be deposited in an account that will be allocated by the state’s flood mitigation board in consultation with the Iowa Department of Homeland Security.

“We’re moving as timely as we can in this legislative session to get the funding back out there for the immediate needs that we have to address before we have spring flooding again,” said House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley. “We’re doing everything that we can as quickly as we can to address those immediate needs.”

State emergency managers said Thursday they have received close to $200 million in requests for flood assistance — many from communities along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The flood mitigation board met Thursday to process more funding applications.

The state had received $97 million in federal housing aid and $117 million in federal economic development aid to be split with Nebraska, but Reynolds said the state had to wait to appropriate its matching funds so as not to jeopardize any federal dollars.

“It’s important that we really look at this in a strategic manner,” the governor told a Statehouse news conference. “There is no reason to just allocate a bunch of money and have it sit there. Let’s be purposeful about how we do it and make sure that we’re not supplanting federal dollars, and we’re doing this in a manner that doesn’t hurt us in the long run.”

HOGG CITES CEDAR RAPIDS

But Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, recounted his memories from the 2008 flood that ravaged Cedar Rapids and the urgency people felt to get their lives back to normal.

The last thing flood victims want to see is a “slow-walk flood recovery” coming out of Des Moines.

“Good lord, we are 11 months after this flood disaster started, and we still have no plan. That’s tragic,” Hogg said during Thursday’s Senate floor debate.

“Communities desperately need help,” he added. “This is a very sad day. We’re sitting on over a billion dollars in our ending balance and our rainy day fund and here’s the chump change to fix a few levees in western Iowa and every other community.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the appropriation represented a “pretty weak proposal” to address the needs of Iowa’s flood-ravaged areas.

“This is what climate change looks like, and this is what climate change costs,” he said. “There is a cost to it. This is not a hoax.”

NOT ‘SITTING AROUND’

Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, said recovery work already is underway in southwest Iowa, especially to fix levees before spring storms arrive, but he noted many areas were under water after last year’s “bomb cyclone” until about six weeks ago.

“People who live out there have not been sitting around on their hands waiting for us to show up,” Shipley said. “They are working every single day. The work has been going on.”

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said legislators have worked closely with the governor’s office, and federal officials and state emergency managers worked hard to make sure the needs are being met.

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They have been advised that $20 million “is the appropriate amount.” If more is needed, the Legislature will respond, he said.

“If you appropriate too much money,” he said, “that sometimes can screw up the plan and put federal dollars in danger. We want to be very careful to make sure it fits in with the plan that we’ve worked out with the feds.”

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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