BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – U.S. Senator Charles Grassley said he wants to see local government gap funding in the next stimulus package Congress puts together.
During a videoconference today sponsored by the Lee County Economic Development Group, Grassley said current stimulus packages do nothing for Iowa’s cities and leaves them at the mercy of state officials.
With LCEDG CEO Dennis Fraise moderating the 30-minute question and answer period, Grassley said there was $150 billion on the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act that goes to states on a per capita basis. He said cities with populations of more than 500,000 get direct support from the federal government.
“Those people will get money separate from state money. But in Iowa towns like Fort Madison, you don’t get any (federal) money. No town in Iowa gets any money so you’re going to have to go to the state and see how they want to distribute to each community,” Grassley said.
“On the fourth round of appropriations after we get this first $2.2 trillion spent, the next money that goes to the states, we’ll see that those small communities get some of that money.”
But he said the rest of the money that’s gone into the first three phases of economic aid is doing what is was intended to do. He did say the money earmarked for the Paycheck Protection Program is about exhausted through the country’s local banks.
Fraise pressed Grassley on whether additional funds will be added to some of those programs to help mitigate losses due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 illness.
Grassley said he favored an additional $250 billion “or whatever people think is necessary”.
“As a matter of equity we want to make sure every small business is given every opportunity others have had with the first $350 billion,” he said from his farm in Iowa.
He said a WHIP call on the 100 senators would clarify any opposition, but he said that money can be made readily available by unanimous consent. Grassley said he also favored extending the time frame of the usage of the money from the current eight weeks, to possibly 12.
“My voice has been in support of that amount of money, but when that will happen we don’t know.”
He said Congress is slated to return to session on May 4, if Washington D.C. looks under control in the metro area.
With COVID-19 outbreaks happening heavily now at state meat processing facilities in and around Iowa, Grassley said it’s going to be very important to get assistance to those facilities, but his recent conversations with Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was that putting a program in place could take some time due to logistical issues.
“That’s going to be a real economic problem if we don’t get some money into that,” Grassley said.
“I talked with Sec. Perdue about getting that out and he thinks because it’s a new program and software has to be changed and regulations have to be approved, it wouldn’t get out until June 1. So I called the Secretary of Treasury because he’s got more oooomph with the White House.”
Grassley said he’s heard from pork producers who are euthanizing pigs because their refrigerators are full and there’s no place to take them for slaughter.
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was going to withhold funding to the World Health Organization. Grassley said the government needs to maintain is relationship with WHO, but the organization needs to not be carrying the water for China.
“It’s pretty obvious that WHO was trying to protect China and China has too much influence with them. We put $500 million in the group and China puts in $40 million…. We don’t want the money to go there if it’s more of the China Health Organization.”
Grassley said going forward the look of commerce will be different and sporting events many not have fans for a while.
“Restaurants will have less people and spaces between seating and in some places I don’t think you’ll see it open up for another month,” he said.
“I think it’ll be eight weeks before we see some normalcy. And big gatherings like ball games and sports events, you may not have any seating at all or very little, for a very long period of time.”
Congress as whole, Grassley said, is working pretty well in getting money out, but people who question the government’s action need to realize that nothing like this has happened in 240 years.
“This is unprecedented and if I had been in Congress for 240 years this would be the first time this happened,” he said.
“Hopefully, it won’t take a war to get us out of this depression like it did in the 30s. We went in with the strongest economy the US has ever had and we’ll get out of it quicker.”