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Trump Approves Disaster Aid to Iowa for Flooding

Two days after he signed a disaster proclamation for Nebraska, President Trump issued a similar declaration for Iowa, making federal assistance available in both states. Another avenue for aid could open this week — the Senate may vote on a $13.5 billion disaster relief bill that might be revised to include money for flood-hit portions of the northern Plains and the western Corn Belt.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said the emergency declaration “will be instrumental to Iowa’s recovery … The road to recovery will be long, but it’s clear that Iowans will have the resources we need to rebuild.” The White House announced the disaster declaration on Saturday.

Reynolds estimated losses at nearly $1.6 billion in her request for aid. In Nebraska, unofficial estimates of losses quickly topped $1.3 billion last week, the bulk of it in agriculture. Ranchers lost cattle and calves to storms and floods, and farmers lost buildings and grain in bins. “The devastation caused by the flooding is incomprehensible,” said Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.

When the scope of flooding in the Northern Plains became apparent, the disaster bill pending in the Senate became an obvious vehicle for aid. The bill would provide aid to farmers in the South, hit by two hurricanes in 2018; respond to wildfires in California last fall; and repair military installations damaged by hurricanes. To have a chance at inclusion in the bill, officials would have to scramble to provide reliable loss figures, said Iowa Senator Charles Grassley. “That’s how it’s been done.”

A similar $14 billion bill was passed by the House. The administration has expressed reservations about both bills, which include additional money for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program. Benefits per person have been cut on the island because of a surge in enrollment. Unlike the rest of the country, Puerto Rico is given a lump sum of money to cover nutrition assistance for the entire year. The White House said the $600 million in the House bill for food stamps in Puerto Rico “is excessive and unnecessary. There is no indication that households need ongoing support at this time or that Puerto Rico requires additional time to return to normal NAP (Nutrition Assistance Program) operations.”

The White House now accepts the proposed $600 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico, said the AP. Georgia Senator David Perdue said last month that disaster aid is needed as planting time approaches. “I have spoken with the president many times about this,” Perdue said. “His commitment to farmers is unwavering.”

Similar to Nebraska, the presidential disaster declaration allows aid, such as grants and low-interest loans for housing and home repair, to individuals in the hardest-hit counties. In addition, the USDA offers loans up to $500,000 for farmers and ranchers to cover production and property losses, said FEMA.

The Nebraska Army National Guard performed its first documented aerial hay drop since a 1949 blizzard to cattle stranded by flooding in Colfax County last week, said the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. The crew of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter dropped 10 large round bales. The bales, usually 4 or 5 feet wide and up to 6 feet in diameter, are commonly described as weighing 1,000 pounds apiece. Weight varies by density and moisture content.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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