Coronavirus in Iowa, live updates for April 8:

CARES Act suspends payments on federal student loans

Neighbors Marlene Aswegan (left) and Idella Shrope of Marion walk together down 13th Avenue in Marion on Tuesday. The tw
Neighbors Marlene Aswegan (left) and Idella Shrope of Marion walk together down 13th Avenue in Marion on Tuesday. The two regularly go on walks together in their neighborhood and have only changed their routine by practicing social distancing with one another as well as both using masks on the walks. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

1:50 p.m.: CARES Act suspends payments on federal student loans

Consumers hit hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can find some help, thanks to new legislation passed by Congress. Those who can benefit include some student loan borrowers.

The federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act suspends payments on federal student loans until Sept. 30.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office and Iowa College Aid are spreading the word about benefits for borrowers.

“The economic pain caused by this pandemic is devastating for many,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “I want to ensure borrowers and employers are aware of these benefits.”

Miller also urges private lenders and creditors not part of the CARES Act to provide a reprieve for distressed borrowers.

“We’re all in this together,” Miller said. “Let’s reach out, be compassionate and treat each other right.”

If you are paying off student loans, here’s what you need to know:

* Not all loans qualify. The suspension mandated in the CARES Act is only for loans held by the U.S. Department of Education. It does not cover FFELP (Federal Family Education Loan Program) loans or Perkins loans held by private lenders, nor does it cover private loans. However, some private lenders might provide these benefits on a voluntary basis. If you’re not sure whether you qualify, contact your loan servicer. If you don’t know who your loan servicer is, you can look it up at Federal Student Aid,


* If your loan does qualify, you don’t need to do anything. Your payments will automatically stop from March 13 through Sept. 30.

* Interest is suspended, too. No interest will accrue on your loan until Sept. 30, so your outstanding loan balance won’t grow while your payments are suspended.

* So is collection on defaulted loans. If you’re in default, your wages will not be garnished until Sept. 30.

You can still pay if you want to. If you choose to continue paying off your loans during the suspension, your monthly payments will be the same as before the suspension.

* You won’t lose eligibility for loan forgiveness. If you’re in a public service loan forgiveness program or an income-driven plan that requires a certain number of consecutive payments, this period of suspension will not count as an interruption.

* You will still be responsible for your loan. After Sept. 30, you will be responsible for paying on your loan once again. The amount will not be reduced.

* If you’re an employer, you can contribute up to $5,250 toward each worker’s student debt through Dec. 31 on a tax-free basis.

2:46 p.m.: I.C. Fab Lab creating face shields

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Fab Lab is creating between 4000 to 5000 units of PPE for the Iowa City area and the state of Iowa.

The Fab Lab is concentrating on face shields, as they are a growing need and fast to produce. Volunteers in the Iowa City area are needed to help produce these masks at the Fab Lab. Due to restrictions and safety, there are limits to the amount of volunteers used for each shift.

1:43 p.m.: Abrupt turn in small-business optimism ends 39-month run

DES MOINES — The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index fell 8.1 points in March to 96.4, the largest monthly decline in the survey’s history.


Nine of the 10 Index components declined, which is evidence that economic disruptions are escalating on Main Street as small businesses struggle to keep their doors open. The small-business sector is anticipating and bracing for continued economic disruptions going forward.

The financial markets saw substantial change in March, with the stock market indices losing 22 percent of their value and jobless claims rising to a record 10 million in the last two weeks of the month. The NFIB survey collected the majority of responses in the first half of the month, so the sharp decline in employment is not reflected in the March survey data.

The main takeaways from the March survey include:

* The NFIB Uncertainty Index rose 12 points in March to 92, the highest level since March 2017.

* Reports of better business conditions in the next six months declined 17 points to a net 5 percent, which is the largest monthly decline since November 2012.

* Real sales expectations in the next six months declined 31 points to a net negative 12 percent, the largest monthly decline in the survey’s history.

* 13 percent of firms thought it was a good time to expand, a decline of 13 points from last month.

* Job openings fell three points to 35 percent.

1:39 p.m.: Small Business Relief Program still taking applications

DES MOINES — On March 23, Governor Kim Reynolds announced a new Iowa Small Business Relief Program to support the state’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Revenue will take applications for tax deferrals through April 30.

The program offered small business relief grants, administered by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. It also offered businesses a tax deferral of sales and/or withholding taxes due and waiver of penalty and interest, administered by the Iowa Department of Revenue.

The Department has received more than 5,700 tax deferral applications and will review each application to determine deferral eligibility. It expects to approve 2,300 applications this week and notify the applicants by mail. Review will continue until all applications have been vetted.

11:39 a.m.: HACAP is packing 5,000 food boxes this week

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Hawkeye Area Community Action Plan (HACAP) food reservoir will be packing food boxes at ImOn Ice Arena today and Thursday. The team is planning on packing 5,000 boxes to help feed those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

There will be over 120 volunteers present throughout both days.

“During this time, we are excited that the City of Cedar Rapids, ImOn Ice Arena, VenuWorks, and HACAP can utilize the facility,” said Erik Hudson, general manager. “HACAP has been tremendous to work with during this time and we are looking forward to the impact this effort will have.”


On Thursday, the boxes will be distributed throughout HACAP’s seven-county area to include mobile food pantries, school feeding sites, and home deliveries. There will also be a pop-up pantry Thursday at the Veterans Memorial Stadium parking lot, across from the ImOn Ice Arena.

10:15 a.m.: Mid-American Energy donating $500,000 to relief efforts

DES MOINES — MidAmerican Energy Company announced that its foundation will donate a half-million dollars to support local food insecurity relief and other COVID-19-related response efforts throughout the company’s service area.

The $500,000 MidAmerican Energy Foundation pledged to more than 30 organizations will fund local food banks, community foundations and United Way agencies addressing hunger and other urgent community needs.

“The pandemic has put strains on our customers, businesses and non-profits everywhere,” said Kathryn Kunert, MidAmerican Energy vice president, economic connections and integration. “We live in the communities we serve and are proud to not only provide the reliable electric and gas service that people need now more than ever, but to support the organizations that are on the frontline meeting other essential needs, such as food security and emotional well-being.”

The company is focusing its donations to support organizations that can rapidly respond to essential local needs. Funded organizations have demonstrated their wide-reach and ability to serve their regional populations.

9:19 a.m.: Grassley, Klobuchar call of Dept. of Justice to prevent price gouging

WASHINGTON — Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) called on the Department of Justice to take vigorous action to protect consumers from price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, the senators urged the department to vigorously enforce Executive Order 13910, which was issued to help prevent such conduct, and to request information about the Department’s current and planned efforts to address this problem.

“Weeks ago, during the initial stages of the pandemic, we began to see troubling reports of price gouging and hoarding of all kinds of products, including essential medical supplies that health care workers need to diagnose, treat and stem the spread of COVID-19,” the senators wrote. “Such practices not only impose unjustifiable costs on those who need these medical and health supplies, they also exacerbate existing supply shortages, threatening public health and safety.

“The ultimate effectiveness of the Executive Order in preventing hoarding and price gouging relating to essential health and medical resources will depend on the enforcement efforts of the Justice Department and effective coordination between the Department, HHS, the Federal Emergence Management Agency and state enforcement authorities.”

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