Trump Signs Only a Portion of Iowa's Disaster Relief Request

A woman hauls branches from a neighbor's yard to the street, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

President Donald Trump said he had signed an emergency declaration for Iowa to help supply federal money to help the state recover from an unusual wind storm that struck a week ago but federal emergency management officials later confirmed he had only signed a portion of the request.

Trump claimed on his official presidential Twitter account Monday afternoon that he had “Just approved (and fast) the FULL Emergency Declaration for the Great State of Iowa. They got hit hard by record setting winds.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds replied on her personal Twitter account: “Thank you President @realDonaldTrump for your unwavering commitment to the state of Iowa.”

A Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman said in an email that Trump had approved the public assistance portion of the governor’s request totaling about $45 million covering 16 counties. That portion of the declaration provides debris removal and repair to government buildings and utilities. He did not, however, approve the individual assistance request for 27 counties that includes $82.7 million for homes destroyed or with major damage and $3.77 billion for agriculture damage to farm land, grain bins and buildings and $100 million for private utilities repair.

“FEMA will continue our joint preliminary damage assessments to determine any further eligible assistance,” the FEMA statement said. “The agency is ready to provide any and all eligible assistance and work with the state of Iowa to validate additional storm damages.”

Reynolds filed an expedited presidential major disaster declaration on Sunday seeking $3.99 billion.

A derecho with hurricane-force wind gusts exceeding 100 mph destroyed or extensively damaged 8,200 homes and 13 million acres (5.3 million hectares) of corn, about a third of the state’s crop land, she said. The Aug. 10 storm killed at least three people in the state.

More than a half million people were without electricity in the immediate aftermath of the storm. As of Monday evening, utility companies reported about 56,000 people remained without power.

Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer said she appreciated Trump’s quick action on public assistance portion.

“I’m deeply disappointed he has not granted the state of Iowa’s full request for individual assistance, including assistance to individuals and homeowners, in response to the derecho storm that devastated Cedar Rapids and communities across eastern Iowa,” she said in an email statement.

Reynolds’ spokesman did not immediately respond to a message Monday night.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said the individual assistance portion was under review and was expected to be approved. He called criticism partisan attacks.

“Governor Reynolds’ request for assistance and President Trump’s approval of the request is happening in record speed,” he said. “Additional approval for individual assistance is expected soon.”

Trump is planning to visit Iowa on Tuesday, Reynolds said during a news conference, but she provided no details.

Reynolds and the federal government has come under criticism for not acting quickly or doing enough.

Former Democratic Lt. Governor Patty Judge, who was Iowa’s homeland security adviser during the massive floods in 2008 that upended many of the same communities hit by the derecho, criticized Vice President Mike Pence for visiting Iowa on Thursday for a campaign stop but not visiting damaged farms or cities.

She also noted Trump’s comments that he might visit.

“Iowans in trouble should be a top priority, not a veiled PR stunt,” she said. “We need leaders who care and who will act immediately when needed, not a week later when they realize their numbers need a boost.”

Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, also a Democrat, spent 48 hours in Cedar Rapids from Friday to Sunday with a chainsaw helping to clear trees from a home, streets, sidewalks and driveways.

He said Reynolds could have moved much quicker by sending an abbreviated request to FEMA intended “for those catastrophes of unusual severity and magnitude when field damage assessments are not necessary to determine the requirement for supplemental federal assistance.” The process was used in 2008 when a tornado struck Parkersburg, Iowa, destroying hundreds of homes. President George W. Bush approved help within 24 hours.

“The level of assistance that is needed over there, it just punches you in the face,” he said.

Reynolds said she had sought money from a much more substantive program that offers more options for federal aid.

“We set a record getting it done,” she said. ’Let’s think about what we are able to do by heroic efforts by some tremendous state employees that are working around the clock to get the resources to Iowans. We have it now and let’s move forward.”

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