A leading statehouse Democrat says inaction in Washington, D.C. on flood relief could delay plans for a special legislative session in Des Moines. On Friday, congress recessed for a five-week break without approving billions of dollars in emergency disaster aid.
Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says it would be premature to reconvene the legislature before they know how much money the federal government has earmarked for Iowa."So I think we want to work with Chuck Grassley, we want to work with Tom Harkin to get a good handle on what might be possible there," Gronstal says.
"Whether we can have that answer by the middle of September certainly remains to be seen." At issue is whether the state will be required to provide matching funds in order to qualify for some of the federal disaster grants.
"It would be kind of messy if we agreed up front we’re going to come up with the resources to cover 25 percent when it’s possible the feds would agree they’re going to cover 90 percent," Gronstal says. "I think that would be kind of messy for us and a mistake."
Governor Culver has said he’s considering calling lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special legislative session in early September, but Gronstal may ask Culver to postpone that if they’re still waiting for word from the feds. Gronstal was recently at the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in New Orleans and he toured the ninth ward that was swamped by Hurricane Katrina.
"Three years later they are still just devastated in those neighborhoods," Gronstal says, "Just one or two houses on a block that are occupied, and then unoccupied, wrecked houses and vacant lots." Gronstal wants state officials to do what they can to ensure "rational" decisions about which flooded-out properties in Iowa should be abandoned and eligible for a government buy-out.
"Helping people with information’s almost as important as helping them with cash or with some sort of grant or loan because I look down there in New Orleans and it’s like three years later and nothing’s happening," Gronstal says.