Tag Archives: Iowa

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) successfully amended the disaster supplemental bill to increase funding for crucial programs vital to Iowa recovery efforts. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved two Axne amendments that increase funding for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program by $300 million and the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program by $500 million. Congresswoman Axne debated her amendments on the House floor today as Rep. Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) presided. To watch a clip of that historic moment, click here.

Following the adoption of the Axne amendments, the House passed the robust emergency disaster supplemental bill to help disaster-stricken communities across the country. It builds on legislation that passed the House in January – with an additional $3 billion for Midwest flooding, thanks to the leadership of Rep. Axne. The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“I’ve been down to flood zones multiple times to speak with farmers, homeowners, and businessowners who have lost everything. Their resilience is inspiring but the damage is heartbreaking,” said Rep. Axne“From my firsthand experience in these flooded areas, I can attest to the serious damage and hazards that these communities face. This federal aid is vital to rebuilding Iowa communities. My amendments will increase funding for programs that will help with debris removal, fix our damaged roads and repair breached levees. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to immediately pass this bill.”

 

Congresswoman Axne has worked tirelessly to ensure that Iowans receive the federal assistance they need following this devastating flood. In addition to fighting for Iowans in Washington, Rep. Axne even rolled up her sleeves and helped a family in Pacific Junction muck out their home. More information on Axne’s efforts to fight for Iowa is available here.

Axne Amendment #1

This amendment increases funding for the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program by $300 million. The EWP program helps communities to quickly address serious and long-lasting damages to infrastructure and land caused by natural disasters. The EWP program funding will help Iowans remove debris from streams, roads, and bridges and help repair the more than 40 levees that were damaged during the flooding.

EWP program funding can be used to:

  • Remove debris from stream channels, road culverts and bridges;
  • Reshape and protect eroded streambanks;
  • Correct damaged or destroyed drainage facilities;
  • Establish vegetative cover on critically eroding lands;
  • Repair levees and structures;
  • Restore conservation practices.

Axne Amendment #2

This amendment increases funding for the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program (FHP) by $500 million. The Federal Highway Administration – Emergency Relief Program will help Iowa address our immediate highway repair needs, restore traffic, and help restore our facilities. Following the devastating flood, key federal aid routes in Southwest Iowa were damaged, including I-29, I-680 and US-34. An initial estimate of damage from this storm tops $90 million, with the damage on I-29 alone estimated at $40 million.

Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief funds are used to:

  • Address immediate needs;
  • Restore traffic;
  • Limit damage to remaining facilities;
  • Restore damaged facilities to pre-disaster conditions.

Leaders of a major Iowa equipment manufacturer and Iowa farmers reiterated their calls Wednesday for President Donald Trump to remove tariffs against trading partners that have driven up the prices of steel and aluminum as well as retaliatory tariffs that are hurting farm exports.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Ia., told business leaders and farmers at a roundtable discussion that she needed to hear their experiences so she could get the message to Washington, D.C. that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) must be ratified and tariffs against Canada and Mexico must be lifted.

Roughly one-in-five jobs in Iowa is tied to trade, largely in agriculture. Wednesday’s event at Kinze Manufacturing in eastern Iowa was organized by the group Tariffs Hurt the Heartland and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). Wednesday’s event was the 15th town hall around the Midwest as groups seek to rally support to drop tariffs.

Dennis Slater, president of AEM, said tariffs equate to a tax and the tax is hitting U.S. businesses and consumers. “China is not paying the tax. We are paying the tax,” Slater said.

Ernst said she did not see any serious sticking points that would prevent the USMCA from ratification. Congress right now is still waiting on the Trump administration to submit the trade deal to Congress, which then starts a timeline for votes on the trade agreement. The bill would begin in the House, where Ernst said she thinks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., supports the USMCA.

“The administration needs to be working with the House on how to get this through,” she said.

Beyond the USMCA, there is equal angst about talks with China and the tariffs in place there. Last summer, President Trump imposed a 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods then followed up with a 10% tariff on $200 billion in goods. China has imposed tariffs on more than $110 billion in U.S. goods, including 25% tariffs on a range of agricultural products, including soybeans, and even higher tariffs on U.S. pork.

Ernst said trade needs to go beyond “one-off” sales to China for products such as soybeans and pork. “We need long-term resolution and that means getting the trade deal done,” the senator said.

Richard Dix, senior director of supply chain for Kinze, said the manufacturer has seen an unprecedented increase in the price of steel, which translates into higher prices for the planters, grain carts and tilling equipment Kinze makes. Then Kinze sees sales affected because farmers are worried about their own income going forward.

“If they are insecure, they are not in the dealership,” Dix said. “If they aren’t in the dealership, then they aren’t buying our products.”

Tariffs are having costs in a variety of ways. A study released this week by the University of Chicago and the Federal Reserve showed tariffs increased the costs for washers and dryers an average of $86 per washing machine and $92 per dryer. That added up to additional costs of $1.5 billion to consumers just for those products.

Further, tariffs and higher metal prices are taking away options such as investing more money in the company or rewarding employees, Dix said. “We’re forced to make different decisions because money is being siphoned away from our company.

“Our biggest fear is this becoming the new normal,” he added.

Other business people in eastern Iowa told of companies losing business to European or Asian firms because of the steel and aluminum tariffs, or the tariffs placed on China. Jon Kinzenbaw, who founded Kinze, said he’s concerned about what could happen to Iowa land values because of persistent low farm prices and the effect that would have on farmers.

“If we don’t get this thing turned around, I predict there will be a lot of farms and other things changing hands in the very near future,” Kinzenbaw said.

Ernst said she disagrees with the way President Trump used a national-security section of an old trade law, “Section 232,” to place steel and aluminum tariffs on most trade partners, especially Canada and Mexico. Those countries retaliated and expected the tariffs to be lifted once the USMCA was negotiated. Right now, the tariffs remain in place and the Trump administration has not offered any details about lifting the Section 232 tariffs.

“If there is a deal in place, and the USMCA is essentially done, then the tariffs need to be lifted,” Ernst said.

Ernst is working on legislation that would require the Department of Defense to determine national security threats before such tariffs could be imposed in the future.

Pam Johnson, former president of the National Corn Growers Association, said there is too much uncertainty about markets as farmers go to the fields this spring to plant a crop. She pointed to a recent University of Illinois analysis highlighting the losses farmers currently face planting either corn or soybeans.

“I have never had to go into a season planting a crop with that in mind,” Johnson said.

John Heisdorffer, former president of the American Soybean Association, told Ernst that U.S. farmers spent millions of dollars developing a trade relationship with China and he fears they may never get the market back like it was just over a year ago. Heisdorffer cited problems in the Dakotas trying to find a market for beans that would have been exported.

“All of those funds seem like they have been lost because we are back where we started,” Heisdorffer said. Heisdorffer also talked about how much U.S. trade disputes have helped international competitors such as Brazil. “We more or less handed them our soybean exports because of the tariffs.”

Ernst expressed confidence in the president on trade, especially the adoption of USMCA. “I think he is going to want to see this as a significant achievement of his administration,” she said.

Animal rights groups filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging a new Iowa law that makes it a trespass crime to conduct undercover investigations at livestock farms, a measure the Legislature approved just weeks after a federal judge struck down a similar law.

The latest bill was approved by the Senate and House on March 12 and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds two days later. It creates a trespass charge for those who use deception to gain access to a farm to cause physical or economic harm, with a penalty of up to a year in jail. It also allows for a conspiracy charge that carries a similar penalty.

Iowa lawmakers passed the new law just two months after a federal judge struck down a law they passed in 2012 that the court concluded violated free-speech rights. That law made it a fraud crime to lie to get a job at a farm to do undercover investigations. The ruling is on appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The latest lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Des Moines claims the new law, which became effective the day Reynolds signed it, violates constitutional free speech and due process rights and is unconstitutionally vague and overly broad.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Center for Food Safety ask a judge to prevent the state from enforcing the law and to strike it down as unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is providing legal assistance in the case.

The lawsuit names Reynolds, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and the county prosecutor in Montgomery County, the site of an egg farm where PETA would conduct an undercover investigation in response to a 2017 whistleblower complaint.

“It’s important for Iowans because these are core and fundamental free speech rights,” said ACLU Iowa attorney Rita Bettis Austen. “It’s also important for Iowans because the actual violations that are documented through these undercover efforts, whether conditions inside puppy mills or abusive violations of labor rights for the least powerful Iowa workers who are in these Iowa ag facilities, simply wouldn’t get covered. They wouldn’t even be known except for these undercover investigative methods.”

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, the Republican who managed the new law on the Senate floor, has said it is more narrowly focused than the 2012 law. Rozenboom, a hog farmer, argued during Senate debate that “agriculture in Iowa deserves protection from those who would intentionally use deceptive practices to distort public perception of best practices to safely and responsibly produce food.”

“I wish they’d find something better to do than defend liars and people that misrepresent the truth,” he said Monday.

He said the bill also serves as an important safeguard against spreading foreign animal diseases that would bring Iowa agriculture to its knees.

Reynolds said in a statement that she’s committed to protecting Iowa farmers.

“We are working with the attorney general’s office to ensure this legislation that supports farmers is upheld,” she said.

The groups say their inability to conduct undercover investigations in Iowa allows agricultural enterprises in Iowa to keep hidden from public scrutiny food safety, labor, and animal welfare issues.

The animal rights groups also say the new law applies to the states estimated 250 puppy mills, facilities that breed large numbers of dogs for the pet trade, some of which have been found to allow dogs to suffer in abusive conditions.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge has awarded more than $181,000 in legal fees to seven lawyers who successfully fought a 2012 Iowa law that made it illegal to get a job at a livestock farm to conduct an animal cruelty undercover investigation.

Animal rights and civil rights organizations, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement, sued Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and others over the so-called ag gag law.

In January, U.S. District Court Judge James Gritzner concluded the law violated the constitutional right to free speech. The state has appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last week, Gritzner approved animal rights groups’ attorney fees, which the state must pay. Additional costs are mounting for the appeal.

Following the defeat of two bills to address 2018 and 2019 disasters on the Senate floor Monday evening, Democrats offered a new plan to address Puerto Rico while Republicans criticized their colleagues for blocking urgently needed aid to other parts of the country.

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday introduced a substitute to the emergency disaster supplemental while the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee addressed the issue at a hearing on the rural economy.

Democrats want more aid for Puerto Rico than the Republicans have proposed. On Monday evening, neither a Republican proposal that contained $600 million in additional food stamp benefits for Puerto nor the House-passed bill that is more generous to Puerto Rico got the 60 votes needed to proceed.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans blamed Democrats for stopping both the aid to Puerto Rico that was in the Republican bill and aid to farmers.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “Senate Democrats yesterday blocked a bill that provides much-needed funds for Puerto Rico’s nutrition program, also aid for the 2018 hurricane and wildfires, and thirdly assistance to Midwest states in the midst of a flood crisis.”

“That includes at least Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, maybe other states,” Grassley said.

“Now, the people that voted against it say it was because they care about Puerto Rico. But the bill they blocked takes care of the urgent funding shortfalls there in that commonwealth,” he said.

“Playing politics with disaster aid does a disservice to the people of Puerto Rico and the people of states like Iowa that are suffering right now from these floods,” Grassley said. “Why would these senators want to come to campaign in Iowa when they don’t show sympathy for Iowans suffering from the floods with the vote that they cast last night?”

At a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the rural economy Tuesday, Paxton Poitevint, the president and CEO of Southwest Georgia Farm Credit in Bainbridge, Georgia, said that while crop insurance, commodity programs and trade agreements are helping, the cotton and nut farmers whose crops were devastated by Hurricane Michael and timber growers in his area “need federal disaster assistance now.”

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said at the hearing, “To be honest, I did not think we’d still be sitting here in April without a disaster aid package signed into law.”

Bishop added that he is “extremely frustrated” and “hopeful it will happen soon.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., whose district has been devastated by floods, said that as bad as the agricultural losses are now, they “are going to mount.”

Iowa officials estimate about $214 million in agricultural losses and more than $1.6 billion in total disaster losses. Nebraska officials estimate agricultural losses could top $1 billion because of as much as $500 million in livestock losses and $400 million in crop losses, as well as prevented planting challenges this spring. Nebraska officials estimate another $450 million just in road damages. Missouri officials have not released any estimates, but parts of northwest Missouri and southwest Iowa remain underwater.

The Leahy/Schumer amendment totals $16.7 billion and includes $2.5 billion in new funding for disaster-stricken communities in the Southeast and Midwest and restores certain funding for Puerto Rico and other territories.

Leahy and Schumer said, “We cannot pick and choose which American citizens to help in times of crisis. Democrats are ready to stand with all American communities affected by recent natural disasters. We hope Republican leadership will stand with us in this effort.”

The amendment includes increased funding for Community Development Block Grants and grants to help rebuild damaged water systems in Puerto Rico. It also provides Medicaid funding for other territories and mandates that the Department of Housing and Urban Development speed up the release of billions in Community Development Block Grant funding the Trump administration has been withholding from disaster stricken communities.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., whose constituents suffered from wildfires and forest fires in 2018, voted against the Republican bill and said, “In California, the scale of last year’s destruction was unprecedented. Wildfires killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and burned more than 150,000 acres, including the entire town of Paradise. Recovery efforts are already underway and additional funding is needed to prevent any delay.”

“Tragically, Californians aren’t the only Americans still trying to recover,” Feinstein said. “Victims of recent typhoons, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, including those that struck Puerto Rico two years ago, are also counting on Congress to approve this funding.

“Congress used to set politics aside after major disasters and help victims in their time of need. Partisan infighting won’t rebuild a single home or school. It’s time we pass an emergency supplemental bill that includes funding for all disaster victims.”

President Donald Trump has said he does not want to provide any aid to Puerto Rico beyond the money for food stamps. Trump called the leaders of Puerto “incompetent and corrupt” and made statements that are factually incorrect, The New York Times reported.