The Iowa House voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt a $56-million disaster relief package for flood and tornado victims. The bill includes $24-million for housing assistance, $22-million for community repairs and $10-million for individual disaster grants.
Representative Tyler Olsen, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says while it’s not a cure-all, the bill does close some of the gaps in federal aid. Olsen says: "The passage of this bill will show that we hear Iowans’ concerns and that inaction is not an option. We must make progress and this bill is progress." Olsen says the measure is a positive beginning.
He says, "I think we’ve come up with a good bill that begins the work of putting Iowans back in their homes and businesses." Republicans, in the minority, eventually backed the bill but first tried to strip a provision that provides vouchers for flood or tornado victims who need to buy new clothing, appliances or food.
Representative Steve Lukan, a Republican from Dubuque, argued that people should have to buy the item first and produce a receipt.
"Under a voucher system, I fear there may be room for fraud and waste and misuse of these dollars," Lukan says. "When someone potentially could be given several hundred dollars to go out and buy clothing for their kids but they maybe use that to buy a big screen television instead."
Lukan says Hurricane Katrina proved the voucher system is easily abused. Lukan says: "I did a little research. Some specific examples include $450 that went to pay for a tattoo, $1,300 that bought a pistol, $1,100 that bought a diamond ring, plasma TV, dog booties."
Democrats argued the state’s poorest victims cannot afford to replace lost items and then wait for reimbursement. Representative Wayne Ford, a Democrat from Des Moines, says most Iowans are honest and deserve the trust and respect of the legislature. Ford says: "I’ve been in the non-profit field 25 years. I’ve dealt with thousands of vouchers. Very few people who have nothing want to go and buy 60-inch color TV even during the week of the Superbowl."
The Democrats prevailed in the argument and the vouchers remained in the final bill. The measure now goes to the Senate where debate is expected today.