IOWA DERECHO 2020

Regardless of the emergency, Iowa congressional delegation at the ready

Snow, ice, flood, tornado or derecho, every disaster and the damage it causes is different, but the Iowa congressional delegation’s response is largely the same from emergency to emergency.

A “well-oiled machine” is how one congressional staffer described the delegation’s unified effort to get Iowans the federal assistance they need.

Members of Congress don’t determine whether and how much aid Iowa will get. Instead, when a governor seeks a presidential disaster declaration, they act as advocates to support the state’s requests and ensure that it gets the proper attention from the president and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Already, members of the Iowa delegation have been on the ground to survey damage and offer their assistance.

Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack told Gov. Kim Reynolds that his office “stands ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary to ensure that Iowa has access to every resource available to tackle the challenges ahead.” Loebsack, a Democrat, represents the 2nd Congressional District, including Johnson County, where residents sustained widespread damage.

Even as many communities in Iowa still are assessing the damage to their farms, businesses, homes and infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley applauded fellow Republican Reynolds’ “leadership and quick action in issuing disaster proclamations across the state.”

“As we continue to move forward through this process, I stand with Sen. Ernst and the rest of the Iowa delegation to lend support to these communities,” Grassley said.

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However, the “rest of the delegation” wasn’t as complimentary of the governor’s efforts.

Since Monday’s storm, Reynolds asked Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management to gather the information needed to submit a federal disaster declaration. On Tuesday, she spoke to President Donald Trump, who, Reynolds said, assured her Iowa will have the full resources of the federal government. And Thursday, Reynolds met with Vice President Mike Pence, whose visit to Iowa included a tour of storm damage.

Also, Reynolds, toured Marion and rural Linn County on Tuesday and will be in Cedar Rapids on Friday to survey storm damage and the recovery efforts.

At a news conference with city officials Thursday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who lives in Cedar Rapids, said she has twice called on the governor to submit an “expedited” request for assistance.

“This needs to be done as fast as possible,” said Finkenauer, who is seeking re-election.

“I know there is a lot going on. They are trying to do what they can, but, quite frankly, it is not fast enough.”

What the process involves

The process of seeking a presidential declaration involves state and local officials assessing damages to form the basis of a request, according to state and congressional staffers familiar with the process.

There are no hard and fast thresholds for a presidential disaster declaration. FEMA looks at the amount and types of damage.

Once that information is available, Reynolds can submit the request, including impact statements and assessments of the damages to individuals, public infrastructure, municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to FEMA.

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It will be reviewed at the regional office in Kansas City, Mo., before being forwarded to Washington. FEMA then makes a recommendation to the president.

Once the request is sent to the president, staffers say their bosses — the members of Congress — go to work to make sure the president understands the magnitude of the need.

Iowa members of Congress have little doubt the request will be approved as soon as possible.

In Iowa, the congressional staffers said, state and local officials are adept at working with FEMA and other agencies that support recovery. Much of the work the congressional delegation does involves connecting individuals as well as state and local officials with the proper agencies to get the support they need.

Grassley plans to get a firsthand assessment of the damage as he travels to his county meetings.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, who surveyed crop damage on a farm near Maxwell on Wednesday, will make several stops in the Cedar Rapids area Friday. She will see damage from the derecho, meet with local officials and hear directly from Iowans affected.

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

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