Week 2 of the 2009 session is in the book. Despite a shortened week because of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Barack Obama’s inauguration, and services for Sen. Mary Lundby, the House began moving the first disaster recovery measure. Details are below, but it is still a work in progress and details are likely to change before it gets to the Governor’s desk.
Before we start, I want to take a minute to recognize Sen. Lundby. I only had the chance to work with her at the Capitol for two years. Even though I was a freshman legislator from the opposite party, she was always helpful, straightforward and kind. Her style is a model for all legislators.
In This Issue
1. President Barack Obama Inaugurated
2. House Moves First Disaster Recovery Bill
3. Dubuque Lands 1300 New Jobs
4. Capitol Visits
5. Coming Attractions
President Barack Obama Inaugurated
I took the opportunity last weekend to travel to Washington DC and see Barack Obama inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. As I’m sure you have seen on the news (or in person) the city overflowed with people. My wife and I stood outside from 6:30 AM until long after the ceremony concluded, but it was definitely worth it. We met people from Georgia, Long Island, Los Angeles, and a state representative from Virginia. Despite the crowds and cold, everyone we met was in a festive mood. The highlight was Chief Justice Roberts saying "Congratulations, Mr. President."
It’s hard to put into words the feeling of witnessing in person such an historic event, so I am going to borrow some from President Obama’s Inauguration Address:
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
"…[O]ur time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."
House Moves First Disaster Recovery Bill
The Iowa House took its first step this week to help Iowans recover from 2008’s historic natural disasters. Moving with almost unprecedented speed, HF 64 cleared the Rebuild Iowa committee on Wednesday and the Appropriations committee Thursday. The bill will be eligible for floor action next week. There will likely be a few changes before it is approved by the House, but the broad outline will stay the same.
HF 64 appropriates $56 million of the $155 million currently available in the Economic Emergency Fund. This is a significant step, but only a first step. The gap between the need and current resources is huge, but we must make progress and this bill is just that. The money is slated for three purposes: continuing and expanding the Jumpstart housing program; individual assistance for unmet needs; and community block grants.
The Jumpstart housing assistance programs would receive $24 million. We intend the program be administered exactly the same as the original Jumpstart with a few exceptions. Households with income up to 150% of the county average income will be eligible, up from 100%. Preference will be given to households that have not previously received Jumpstart assistance. The amount allowed for administrative expense is lowered, making sure the maximum resources are directed to folks affected.
$10 million is directed to individual assistance grants. The details of distributing the resources are still under discussion, but the idea is to issue individual grants of no more than $2500 to cover a household’s still unmet needs. Households up to 300% of the federal poverty level are eligible. This change would also make folks in both state and federal disaster areas eligible. Currently only households in state disaster areas qualify.
Community disaster grants is the third funding area, with funds flowing to cities and counties. The dollars will be distributed pro rata based on a jurisdiction’s percentage of the statewide total damage. These resources can be used for buyouts other than FEMA, small business assistance, non-profit assistance (including cultural institutions), incentives for replacing or rehabilitating housing stock, public infrastructure recovery, or the cost of revaluation and reassessment of property.
HF 64 is intended to reach out to folks with unmet disaster costs currently ineligible for federal or state assistance. Many of you contacted me because you were ineligible for one reason or another, and this bill should address those concerns. The legislature intends to get this bill to the Governor’s desk by Friday. This bill is moving extremely quickly considering the amount of money that is included, and has received bipartisan support.
Dubuque Lands 1300 New Jobs
A new IBM service center in downtown Dubuque is expected to bring 1,300 high paying jobs to the area. IBM cited cooperation between the business community and government leaders and the availability of an educated and talented workforce. Salaries are expected to average $45,000 per year with and annual payroll of $58.5 million. When fully operational in 2010, this will be the biggest single job expansion in the area since John Deere.
The first wave of hiring in the next year would include 350 to 400 workers. The total project cost will likely surpass $100 million, including $22 million the state is expected to approve at next month's Economic Development Board meeting. IBM also signed a ten year lease to locate its Dubuque operation in an historic downtown building, the former Roshek's Department Store. Part of the tax credits proposed would be to renovate this historic building through Iowa's Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program.
There were fewer visits this week because of the shortened schedule. Don Tyne, director of Linn County Veterans Affairs, and Joe Stutler from the Linn County Veterans Commission visited on Thursday. We talked about a number of issues affecting veterans, including the state Veterans Trust Fund. Scott Bannister and Joshua Sabin of Iowa Northern Railway also visited. Infrastructure and Governor’s bonding proposal were topics we discussed.
Flood Them With Love is a grassroots organization formed in conjunction with this week’s National Day of Service. The organization works to help families affected by the 2008 floods. The group has worked directly with seven families and is looking to expand its efforts. Please contact Karla at 319-366-4217 if you are interested in getting involved.
Members of the Cedar Rapids Symphony School are presenting "Pied Piper" concerts for pre-school age children in the former Shoe Sensation store at Westdale Mall (2600 Edgewood Road SW). These are free, 30 minute music education concerts produced by the Symphony School and offered through the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The string section of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra will be featured at this series of concerts. The concerts take place Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Jan. 28, 29 and 30, at 9:30, 10:15 and 11AM. You can pre-register for the special concerts by calling the Symphony School at (319) 363-3960.
Have a great week!