IOWA DERECHO 2020

Mayors press Trump to act on aid for homeowners

President has approved only part of the state's request

President Donald Trump listens to local leaders during a disaster recovery briefing in a hangar at The Eastern Iowa Airp
President Donald Trump listens to local leaders during a disaster recovery briefing in a hangar at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — More than once, President Donald Trump told Iowa federal, state and locals elected officials Tuesday that more help will be coming for individuals and households hurt by hurricane-force winds that ripped across Iowa over a week ago, carving a $4 billion-and-counting path of damage.

“We’ll take care of it,” the president said multiple times during the half-hour discussion in response to pleas from the mayors of Cedar Rapids and Marion, communities at the epicenter of the damage.

“We’re getting it taken care of and done very quickly,” said Trump, who Monday signed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ request for a major disaster declaration. The declaration makes funding available to state and local governments as well as certain nonprofits on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged in 16 counties, including Linn and Johnson.

However, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Trump’s declaration covered only the public assistance portion of Reynolds’ request — about $45 million for debris removal and repair to government buildings and utilities.

Her request for about $82.7 million to help those whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged was not included. FEMA says that still is under review.

Also not yet approved is the $3.77 billion for estimated agriculture damage to farm land, grain bins and buildings — and $100 million for private utilities repair.

According to Iowa Homeland Security, the agriculture and private utility funding wouldn’t come under the auspices of FEMA.

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Iowans need the individual assistance from FEMA, Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart told Trump during the president’s brief event at The Eastern Iowa Airport. The individual assistance is “really important” because almost every one of the community’s 60,000 homes and businesses was damaged.

Homeowner’s insurance — for those who have it — won’t cover many of the expenses including tree removal they face, Hart said.

“That could be tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “So adding the individual assistance component to the disaster declaration would really help so many people get those trees out of their yard and not have such a financial burden.”

“We’ll take care of that,” Trump said, and Reynolds assured the mayor the state is gathering the numbers needed to expand the declaration.

“We’ll be able to add that on and we should be able to do that in a short amount of time,” she said.

Marion Mayor Nicholas AbouAssaly estimate that 90 to 95 percent of all homes and businesses in his city have some damage. Many businesses that had shut to slow the spread of COVID-19 had started to reopen, so “the scale of this disaster will be devastating,” AbouAssaly warned.

“OK, we’re working on it,” Trump said. “It’s a double whammy.”

The devastation of the derecho is taking a human toll, added Kim Reem, executive director of Mission of Hope in Cedar Rapids. The faith-based organization works with people in need, including those who are homeless.

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“And this week, I became one of them,” she said. Although confident her family will recover, Reem said others are not as fortunate and they need the federal individual assistance.

“Their physical needs are not being met,” Reem said about the people Mission of Hope is feeding. “Many of them have lost their shelter. They don’t know where their clothes are.

“We’re strong,” Reem said, echoing other speakers. “We’re strong and we’re resilient Mr. President, but we are tired and we need your help.”

Trump also heard from U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who the president described as “an incredible man,” and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig about the impact on farms. About 113 million acres of crops have been damaged or destroyed, Grassley said.

Naig told Trump central and east-central Iowa cooperatives are reporting early estimates of more than 57 million bushels of licensed grain storage seriously damaged or destroyed. The co-ops estimate it will cost more than $300 million to remove, replace or repair the damaged grain storage bins.

In light of the damage done to the ethanol industry, first as COVID-19 reduced Americans’ travel and now by the wind damage to cornfields, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst told Trump he should not allow any waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“Just dispense of those,” she said. “We just need help from the EPA to follow the intent of the law.”

“We’ll speak to them,” Trump said. “We’ll speak to them.”

State Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, stressed the importance of repairing schools that “suffered damage, catastrophic damage, in many cases, similar to a hurricane.”

“Well, we’ll take care of it, and you will make a fast recovery,” Trump said.

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Hinson is challenging Democratic 1st District Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who was not invited to the event. Finkenauer, who has been critical of Reynolds’ efforts, spoke Monday to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden and Finkenauer had a brief conversation during which she asked him “to use his national platform to draw attention to the crisis in Iowa,” her campaign said in a statement. “She looks forward to engaging with anyone and everyone to bring much needed resources to our state.”

Biden Iowa campaign Director Lauren Dillon called Trump’s stop a “transparent attempts to save face” in the state.

“One photo-op in Iowa does not make up for four years of failed leadership,” she said.

Trump noted he is familiar with many of the counties devastated by the derecho from campaigning here in 2016.

“This has been a very loving area,” he said about Iowa.

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