CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Reynolds, AG Miller call on Congress to act on pandemic aid

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a Nov. 19 new conference in Johns
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a Nov. 19 new conference in Johnston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

JOHNSTON — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and state Attorney General Tom Miller are imploring Congress to take action on pandemic relief funding for states.

Congress has resumed its postelection work, and one of the top items on the agenda before it finishes its work for the year is another round of pandemic relief funding.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the latest proposal, introduced by a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, totals $908 billion, including $228 billion in subsidies for a second round of relief to hard-hit businesses. The proposal also would revive a special jobless benefit, but at a reduced level.

And state and local governments would receive $160 billion, plus money to help vaccine distribution, the AP reported. Previous proposals, which included more spending, were rejected by leaders from both major political parties.

Reynolds, a Republican, and Miller, a Democrat, both this week made pleas for renewed federal action.

“It’s time for Congress to come together and get a relief package passed,” Reynolds said Tuesday during a news conference at Iowa PBS studios.

Miller joined a bipartisan coalition of 49 state attorneys general that delivered to Congress a letter, co-written by Miller, asking lawmakers to allow states more time to spend the previous pandemic aid, which came with the stipulation it be spent by year’s end.

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“The CARES Act is delivering critical resources to communities,” Miller said in a statement. “With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, states and local governments need more flexibility in using these funds.”

Iowa previously received roughly $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding. A spokesman said the governor “likely next week” will provide an update on how much of that remains to spend.

The Iowa Legislature during its pandemic-interrupted session earlier this year gave its blessing to Reynolds to use $17 million from the state’s emergency account for pandemic relief. Reynolds used that funding, then replenished the state account using federal CARES Act funds, her spokesman said.

Reynolds on Tuesday said the remaining state funds are not sufficient to help all Iowans who have been impacted by the pandemic.

“Unfortunately there’s just not enough state funding to make everybody whole. That’s just a reality of what we’re dealing with,” Reynolds said. “This is something that Congress needs to do. They need to step up. They need to do their job. They need to come together and get it figured out and get relief sent to the states for our small businesses and Iowans that are suffering from COVID-19, again, at no fault of their own.”

Reynolds said the state is waiting for final guidance from the federal government so the state can finalize its plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available, possibly starting later this month.

She said she would announce those plans once they are finalized.

Reynolds also said she is encouraged by recent trends in the virus’ activity in the state, although she cautioned much work remains ahead.

She also noted it will be roughly another week before data shows whether another surge may come in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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On the heels of spikes unlike any seen before during the pandemic, Iowa’s two-week rolling averages for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been declining over the past week. However, those averages remain exponentially higher than the previous highs from the summer.

“Even though the progress we’re making is reassuring, we’re not out of the woods. It is going to continue to take all of us working together to make that possible. So now is not the time to let up on the efforts,” Reynolds said. “So I’m just asking Iowans to continue to do the right thing like you have been. I appreciate the efforts that everybody is putting in place so we can continue to see those numbers come down and, again, hopefully get things back to more of a manageable number.”

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