Staff Columnist

Iowa's vulnerable take another COVID-19 pandemic hit

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives to update the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak at a news conference at the St
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives to update the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak at a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center, Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, Pool)

It was one of those jarring juxtapositions that make our state’s true priorities clear.

On Friday, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, the Iowa Economic Development Authority handed Cargill $5.6 million in tax breaks and refunds for a new chemical production line at its Eddyville plant. Monroe County added a $5.5 million local tax break.

The $230 million project will employ 14 people. In January, Cargill reported a $1 billion second quarter profit, although it canceled its third quarter report due to pandemic disruptions. It’s the largest privately owned company in the U.S.

This has become standard operating procedure in Iowa. Massive companies being handed millions of dollars in breaks, credits and sometimes forgivable loans for expansions and ventures that create a handful of jobs. The Apple data center in Waukee, receiving $207 million in state and local tax breaks for 50 jobs, also comes to mind.

But this time, just a few days after Cargill cashed in, Gov. Kim Reynolds stood before reporters Tuesday to announce she would not extend a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during a pandemic as tens of thousands of Iowans remain unemployed.

Reynolds said she will, instead, unveil a program where tenants in need of help could seek state grants to cover rent. Landlords, after all, also are being harmed by the economic downturn. Fair enough. But details of the program haven’t been announced, even as the moratorium ended.

Maybe it will be a lifeline. I hope to be surprised. But why not extend the eviction moratorium a few more weeks while renters navigate that new process? Why subject struggling Iowans to that gut-wrenching moment when the eviction notice comes?

Why do we move millions to protect the investments of wealthy companies while leaving struggling Iowans to fend for themselves as a pandemic spreads and the economy crumbles?

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Twenty-three advocacy groups, led by the ACLU of Iowa, asked the governor to extend the moratorium, arguing hundreds of thousands of renters could be affected. Losing housing leaves Iowans more vulnerable to COVID-19, especially if they turn to crowded shelters.

The economic damage of an eviction is lasting, as people evicted find it more difficult to pass future landlord screening. And this cycle of economic insecurity disproportionately affects women and people of color. Black renters in Iowa, according to the advocacy groups, are 4.8 times more likely to be evicted than whites. Black women are 5.5 times more likely.

More than 170,000 Iowans were unemployed in April, according to state figures. And although the governor has allowed most businesses to at least partially reopen, the state’s economy is only slowly recovering. Iowans who turned to unemployment and stimulus checks are seeing those resources dwindle. Extending eviction protection, at this moment, is a no-brainer.

But as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, the most vulnerable keep paying a high price — in nursing homes where the state previously rolled back inspections and rules, in meatpacking plants where state leaders praised owners even as hundreds were sickened and scores of hourly workers who lost income and now face losing housing.

Companies get millions. Workers get eviction notices. Standard procedure.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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