Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has signed into law a $56 million package designed to help Iowa recover from last summer’s record flooding, but he cautioned that the measure was only one step in a long recovery process.
“The good news is we have made some progress,” Culver said at a packed ceremony in the Statehouse Rotunda. “There’s much more work to do.”
The Legislature unanimously approved the recovery package, with the money coming from the state’s economic emergency fund. That fund exists to tide the state through recessions and natural disasters, and backers of the package noted the state was hit with both.
“In short it provides us a sense of hope and a sense of stability,” said Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley, among many local officials on hand for the event.
The measure sets aside $24 million for housing assistance and $22 million to flood-stricken communities. Another $10 million will be spent on grants of up to $2,500 for individuals hammered by the flooding, helping with such costs as food, replacement of personal property and mental health counseling.
The individual assistance program will be run by the state’s Department of Human Services.
The $56 million package was the first measure Culver has signed this session, a fact he said reflects the priority he’s giving to flood relief. Culver said the recovery won’t be completed quickly.
“This process will take years, not months, and this bill must be the first step of many we will take this session and in subsequent sessions,” he said.
Culver also urged lawmakers to support his plan to borrow $700 million to pay for flood relief and repairs to Iowa’s aging infrastructure. The money would be repaid over 20 years with profits from state-licensed casinos.
The governor said the projects would help prevent Iowa’s economy from sinking deeper into a recession and would augment a stimulus package being considered in Congress.
That proposal has already prompted plenty of questions, especially from Republicans who have expressed concern about saddling the state with new debt. Democrat who run both chambers of the Legislature have said they’ll look at the idea.
At the signing ceremony, Jeffrey and Shannon Cardemann of Cedar Rapids drove home the impact of the flooding. Their house was destroyed in the flooding, and they’ve since moved to the nearby community of Shellsburg.
“They all said go ahead and start moving on,” said Jeffrey Cardemann. “We basically are paying for two places now. We’ve got the damaged property in Cedar Rapids and the new home that’s our home now.”
In a less splashy setting, Culver also planned Monday to sign into law a measure that would allow local officials to quickly seek voter approval of an increased sales tax. The local option tax would be allowed in those counties deemed presidential disaster areas after last summer’s severe weather — that’s 80 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
Officials could seek an increase in the sales tax to 7 percent, and if approved by voters could begin as early as April. The measure was primarily pushed by officials in Cedar Rapids.
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