2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Legislative leaders vow action on Gov. Reynolds' $15 million flood aid package

Governor recommends another $10M in housing help for the next fiscal year

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, argues his case Monday in the Senate for an amendment he offered to provide $24 million from the state’s budget surplus to fund flood mitigation yet this fiscal year for areas of Iowa hard hit by floods. However, majority GOP senators successfully argued to Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, that Hogg’s amendment should be ruled irrelevant to a fiscal 2020 justices system budget bill that was the subject of debate. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, argues his case Monday in the Senate for an amendment he offered to provide $24 million from the state’s budget surplus to fund flood mitigation yet this fiscal year for areas of Iowa hard hit by floods. However, majority GOP senators successfully argued to Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, that Hogg’s amendment should be ruled irrelevant to a fiscal 2020 justices system budget bill that was the subject of debate. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislative leaders announced Monday a $15 million state funding package and advisory board charged with coordinating a comprehensive effort to rebuild from the disastrous floods that last month inundated huge swaths of Iowa.

In addition $15 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, Reynolds asked the Legislature to approve another $10 million in fiscal 2020 for the workforce housing tax credit to help accelerate housing improvements in flood-impacted areas.

“This critical funding will assist in flood control infrastructure repairs and immediate fixes for public safety,” Reynolds said. “The legislation spans levees, drainage areas and flood control improvements, for individuals, businesses and communities affected by this historic flooding.”

President Donald Trump has approved a disaster declaration for 56 counties in Iowa — more than half of its 99 — affected by severe flooding since March 12.

Congress is considering an overall disaster aid package that includes federal money for the Iowa flooding, but the measures are held up over disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over help for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of last year’s hurricanes there.

Iowa Lawmakers indicated they may take up parts of the proposed state funding package this week as they continue work on their statewide $7.6 billion general fund budget for fiscal year that begins July 1.

“The governor’s done a really good job of coordinating things,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, who added that Reynolds and legislative leaders have worked together to come up with an appropriate response.

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“We have agreed with her that, for now, this is the first step we need to accomplish,” he said. “It’s a plan that’s well-thought out, it’s not duplicating services and it’s something that we need in the meantime until more federal money comes.”

During debate on a fiscal 2020 justice system budget bill, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, argued unsuccessfully Monday to attach an amendment seeking to fund another $24 million in flood mitigation efforts from the state’s current surplus ending balance.

Hogg sought to add the funding to the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency budget, but Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, agreed with majority GOP senators who challenged the amendment as procedurally irrelevant to the justice systems measure.

Executive Order #4, which creates the 15-member Flood Recovery Advisory Board, formalizes steps the state has taken under her direction, Reynolds said.

So far, the damage estimate from flooding that started six weeks ago along the Missouri River is at nearly $1.6 billion, but Reynolds expects it to go higher.

The assessment includes $75 million in public assistance, $480 million in individual assistance, $300 million in damage to local businesses, more than $200 million in agricultural impact and more than $500 million to the federal and non-federal levees, according to state and federal estimates.

As a result of the flooding, about 25,000 homes were destroyed or sustained major damage and more than 4,200 businesses impacted.

The state has created a website at floods2019.iowa.gov to help people harmed by the flooding to apply for aid and to guide travelers who face detours because of washed-out roads.

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But it’s difficult to assess the damage because water still is standing in some areas where the levee system was breeched, Reynolds said.

The governor said 50 levees and nearly 250 miles of the levee system were compromised.

The biggest challenge at the moment is four “catastrophic breeches” in the levee system.

“We can’t really begin to assess the damage as well as start to repair the levee system until we can plug the holes and stop the inflow,” the governor said.

But that could take a year, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In the interim, the state and local governments can begin working on short-term flood protection.

Reynolds will chair the advisory board. She will appoint members to working groups that will focus on finance, economic development, agriculture, workforce and housing, public health and flood management and infrastructure.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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