Iowa’s derecho disaster declaration does not include aid for homeowners, farmers

Source: By Kim Norvell, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A federal major disaster declaration approved Monday does not include financial assistance for Iowans recovering from last week’s devastating derecho, despite President Trump tweeting he approved the state’s application in “FULL.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ request for $82.7 million to cover the 8,273 homes that were damaged or destroyed was not approved. Neither were her requests for $3.77 billion for agriculture damage to farm land, grain bins and buildings and $100 million for private utilities repair.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Reynolds said teams are still assessing damage to determine if the state is eligible for more assistance. It could be another week before individual assistance is approved, acting secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, said at a roundtable with Trump in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.

On Aug. 10, a straight-line wind storm with speeds of up to 110 miles per hour ripped through the state, destroying at least 10 million acres of crops, damaging trees, homes and businesses and leaving half a million Iowans without power.

Reynolds submitted a request for $3.9 billion in federal aid on Sunday — about $45 million of which Trump approved Monday.

“Just approved (and fast) the FULL Emergency Declaration for the Great State of Iowa. They got hit hard by record setting winds,” he tweeted.

The disaster declaration issued Monday includes federal funding for emergency work, such as debris removal, and repair or replacement of storm-damaged facilities for local governments and nonprofits.

It includes the counties of Benton, Boone, Cedar, Clinton, Dallas, Jasper, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Story and Tama.

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Federal funding is also available for hazard mitigation statewide, which will allow Iowa to take “steps to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property” from natural disasters, said Molly Halverson, spokesperson for Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management. Just how much is allocated for mitigation projects is unknown at this time.

“The governor’s request for federal individual assistance for 27 counties is under review,” she said. “Individual assistance provides funding for disaster-impacted homeowners and businesses with programs and services to maximize recovery, including assistance with housing, personal property replacement  medical expenses and legal services.”

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart told Trump that the individual assistance would help homeowners pay their deductibles, cover spoiled food and remove trees from their properties, which often isn’t covered by insurance, he said.

Nearly all of the city’s 60,000 homes and businesses were damaged in the storm.

“Adding the individual assistance component to the disaster declaration would really help so many people get those trees out of their yards and not have such a financial burden,” Hart said.

“I’ll take care of it, mayor,” Trump replied. He later turned to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor and said, “Let’s do it — the individual help. It’s a double whammy.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who lives in hard-hit Cedar Rapids, said she is thankful for the president’s quick initial approval, but is disappointed relief wasn’t included for homeowners immediately.

“We must ensure no Iowan is left behind by this tragedy. I ask the president to rectify his omission immediately,” she said in a news release. “I will continue fighting for a fast and comprehensive review of the impacts of this storm on Iowa families and businesses — and all necessary and appropriate federal relief for families as well as local governments.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne echoed her counterpart’s statements and called for an expedited review of federal aid as families are displaced with few options for shelter during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Like many others across our state, I took the President at his word yesterday when he announced he had approved ‘the full emergency declaration’ for Iowa to unlock the federal resources necessary to aid recovery efforts from last week’s derecho,” she said in a statement. ” … The families in Iowa who have lost their homes, power, and massive sections of their harvests cannot afford any unnecessary delay.”

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley called the criticism partisan attacks.

“Governor Reynolds’ request for assistance and President Trump’s approval of the request is happening in record speed,” he said. “Additional approval for individual assistance is expected soon.”

A state disaster declaration, issued in 25 counties, still stands and can provide financial help for some who qualify.

Iowans earning 200% of the federal poverty level — or $41,560 for a family of three — can apply for up to $5,000 in assistance for damages incurred during the storm. Applications can be found here or by calling 877-347-5678.

If federal individual assistance is approved, it will take the place of the state’s program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kim Norvell covers growth and development for the Register. Reach her at knorvell@dmreg.com or 515-284-8259. Follow her on Twitter @KimNorvellDMR.

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