The leader of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says more federal disaster aid is coming to Iowa. Janet Napolitano visited flood-damaged parts of eastern Iowa on Wednesday.
Napolitano toured Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. Much of the hospital’s first and second floors were renovated after last year’s floods, costing about sixty-six million dollars. Napolitano did not tour any flood-ravaged neighborhoods but says seeing the hospital demonstrates how a community can rebuild.
Napolitano says although there are disasters throughout the country, the window for receiving federal aid in Iowa is not closing. In the short term, Napolitano announced nearly six million dollars in FEMA Community Disaster Loans. Those loans go to essential community services such as police and fire departments. Most of the money will go to Cedar Rapids, while New Hartford, Oakville, Palo, and Parkersburg will also receive loans.
Napolitano says she understands the frustration with how long it takes to receive federal aid, but says the federal government is not primarily responsible for disaster recovery. Napolitano says a complete recovery will take years and will involve collaboration among federal, state, and city leaders. She says the new administration is reevaluating how the government responds to disasters.
The city manager of Cedar Rapids says the response is too slow. Jim Prosser says the federal government should take the lead when devastation strikes. Prosser says Cedar Rapids has received less than $40-million where money is needed most.
He says the city needs Community Development Block Grant Funds. That money comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and can be used for buyouts, business recovery, and property rehabilitation. Representatives from HUD were in Cedar Rapids but did not make themselves available to the media.
Some who attended Napolitano’s visit were not as concerned about flood recovery but say the federal government is ignoring a town it helped destroy. Last May, immigration officials raided a meat packing plant in Postville. Mary McCauley, with St. Bridget’s Church in Postville, along with five others, wanted to meet with Napolitano but did not get that chance. McCauley says the devastating effect a raid has on a town is a crisis that’s being ignored.
McCauley says the Department of Homeland Security needs to spearhead comprehensive immigration reform. Despite concerns from those in Postville and critics of the government’s flood response, Governor Culver says bringing high-level officials to Iowa is important because it raises awareness. Culver says it helps make sure people who suffered from last year’s disasters are not forgotten.