Help for Iowa Renters, Homeowners, Small Businesses
Iowa small businesses and workers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the American Rescue Plan is bringing help. Signed into law earlier this month, the comprehensive package will help save lives, livelihoods, and Main Street businesses. Earlier this session, Iowa House Democrats introduced a COVID relief package called “Build Back Iowa”, but it has yet to be considered by Majority Party leaders. In the meantime, here is how President Biden’s American Rescue Plan is helping Iowans recover.
Help for Small Businesses
Paycheck Protection Program. Now extended for small business through May 31st. The Paycheck Protection Program is a forgivable loan that provides small businesses a loan to pay for payroll and other overhead expenses. The loan is forgivable as long as the business continues to pay employees. Businesses can apply directly with a lending institution. For more information and to find a participating lender visit, sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/covid-19-relief-options/covid-19-economic-injury-disaster-loan.
COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is increasing the maximum amount small businesses and non-profit organizations can borrow through the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Starting April 6th, the SBA is raising the loan limit for the COVID-19 EIDL program from 6-months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $150,000 to up to 24-months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $500,000. The EIDL program provides low-interest loans to businesses who have experienced a loss in income due to COVID-19. For more information on the EIDL program and to apply, visit SBA’s website at: sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/covid-19-relief-options/covid-19-economic-injury-disaster-loan.
New Rent, Utility, and Mortgage Assistance Available
Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) has opened applications for rent and utility assistance through the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Up to three months of payment is available. Eligible renters must have a household income no more than 80% of the area median income, have experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19, and can show either an inability to pay rent and or utilities or are at a risk of experiencing homelessness. More information on eligible households and the application can be found on IFA’s website, iowafinance.com/iowa-rent-and-utility-assistance-program/. Polk County received their own funds for a rent and utility assistance program for people who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and the funds are being distributed by IMPACT Community Action Partnership. Polk County residents are encouraged to call 515-777-7644 for appointment updates or visit IMPACT’s website, impactcap.org/erap.
Homeowner Foreclosure Prevention Program. The Iowa Homeowner Foreclosure Prevention Program is now available for homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure. Homeowners can receive up to four months in mortgage assistance. Eligible homeowners must be at imminent risk of foreclosure, have experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19, and must have a household income no more than 80% of area median income. More information on eligible households and the application can be found on IFA’s website, iowafinance.com/covid-19-iowa-foreclosure-prevention-program/.
Tax Relief for Unemployed Iowans
Iowans who lost their job will no longer have to pay federal or state income taxes on the pandemic assistance they received last year. After U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne got a provision included in the American Rescue Plan last month, those benefits are now exempt from federal taxes, Iowa has already agreed to automatically conform to those changes in federal law. Under both Iowa and federal 2020 taxes, the first $10,200 of unemployment compensation income will be excluded from taxation for most taxpayers.
The tax changes are automatic at both the state and federal level so taxpayers do not have to do anything in addition to take advantage of these changes. For Iowans who have already filed their taxes for 2020, an automatic adjustment will be made that could take up to 90 days and they do not need to file an amended return.
Food Insecurity Aid
Due to the pandemic, many Iowans are still struggling with food insecurity and may lack the financial resources to feed themselves and their families. To help prevent food insecurity, the Biden Administration and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack are increasing food assistance through SNAP by 15% through September 30, 2021. This will equate to about $28 per person per month extra in benefits. The Administration also allocated $5 billion to allow low-income families access to school meals and food assistance during both the school year and summer months. Iowans who need food assistance can apply at dhsservices.iowa.gov/apspssp/ssp.portal. To update current SNAP benefits, call 877-347-5678. Iowans can also call 2-1-1 to connect with their local food bank.
House Passes Bill Expanding Rural Broadband Access to Iowans
With Iowa ranked 45th in the nation for broadband access, Iowa lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill earlier this week to invest more in broadband across the state. HF 848 establishes matching grants for providers who expand broadband in underserved areas. Most grant funding would go towards developing internet access with download and upload speeds of at least 100 megabits per second. Some grants will allow for lower upload seeds in the most difficult to reach areas.
Officials of some Iowa broadband companies have estimated between $800 million to $850 million to install high-speed service across Iowa, including private investments. Iowa’s major business organizations have listed statewide high-speed internet access as a top priority as this service is important to attracting and keeping businesses and workers, a point made clearer during the pandemic.
Earlier this month, $15.5 million in federal CARES act funding was awarded to 14 Iowa broadband providers through the Empower Rural Iowa grant program. These grants will impact 21 Iowa counties and over 2,800 homes, schools, and businesses.
Protect Your Health, Get the COVID Vaccine
Beginning April 5th, all adults will be eligible for the COVID vaccination.
Given that Iowa still has a large population needing vaccinations in our 65+ and those with pre-existing conditions, some Iowans may still find delays getting appointments.
Iowans who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine but have barriers to scheduling an appointment can call 2-1-1 or (800) 244-7431 for assistance scheduling an appointment. The vaccine navigators at 2-1-1 can assist in multiple languages. Iowans can also visit vaccinate.Iowa.gov to find a vaccine provider.
Veterans, their spouses, and caregivers are able to receive COVID-19 vaccines at their local Veteran Affairs health centers. Signed by President Biden, the SAVE LIVES Act allows VA health centers to provide vaccines to all veterans, spouses and caregivers, regardless of their VA health care enrollment status. To find a VA health center near you, visit: va.gov/find-locations/?facilityType=health&serviceType=Covid19Vaccine.
As of mid-week, 1,433,279 vaccines have been administered and 590,104 Iowans have received both doses of the vaccine.
Budgeting Processes Begins, Revenue Estimating Conference Meets
As lawmakers are beginning to map out the state budget, Iowa’s budget experts on the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) met earlier this month to make their estimates on the state’s incoming revenue. The estimate will determine how much the state has to appropriate in the upcoming budget year.
After a year-long pandemic, it is evident that the state needs the American Rescue Plan relief bill to help businesses, workers, schools, local governments and other sectors of the economy recover. The budget experts on the REC mentioned several times how important the American Rescue Plan and other federal stimulus was in keeping the economy afloat.
While both the Fiscal Year 2021 and FY 2022 saw some growth, many budget challenges remain for Iowa. The REC expressed specific concerns about the impact of the pandemic on low wage workers who are not allowed to work from home and household employment is still down 117,000 jobs from 2020.
The REC updated their FY 2021 projection, with a 1.9% growth in revenues from FY 20. This would amount to total receipts at $8.079 billion, which is $109.6 million more than the December REC projection. This is also a small increase of $148.3 million in growth from FY 20. The REC also made another projection for FY 2022 with an estimate of 3.8% growth over FY 21, compared to 3.7% growth in their December projection. This would give total net receipts plus transfers of $8.385 billion, which is $119.9 million more than their December estimate. This is $306.7 million more than their FY 21 estimate.
The Legislature must pass a budget prior to adjournment on April 30th.
Charter School Bill Fast Tracked Through Iowa House
Despite bi-partisan opposition, a bill that would expand Iowa’s charter school law passed the House last Thursday. Research shows that charter schools have failed on a national scale, with multiple corruption scandals and lower standards than our Iowa public schools. The charter school plan in HF 813 would shift money out of public schools to unaccountable, out-of-state, private company run charter schools that could be located anywhere in the state.
Multiple proposals from House Democrats were rejected during the debate. One would have protected tax payers by having the institutions bonded, and another would have prevented the governing board of a charter school from being compensated by the school. Another amendment was voted down that would have required a vote of the people of the school district where the proposed charter school would be located.
There was a provision that was added intended to add transparency. However, it only required charter schools to have public meetings, not that their records would be public records.
The bill is expected to be considered in the Senate this week.
Other Iowa News
STATE TAX FILING DEADLINE EXTENDED: The Iowa Department of Revenue (DOR) updated state tax requirements for Iowans filing their taxes this spring because of changes made to federal taxation. The state tax filing deadline was delayed until June 1, 2021 for individual income tax payers and for first quarter estimated income tax payments. Those taxes are usually required by April 30th annually.
APRIL IS SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH: This year’s campaign focuses on online abuse. Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse can happen anywhere, including in online spaces. As we connect online, we can learn how to intervene when we see harmful content or behaviors, and ensure that online spaces are respectful and safe. Learn more: nsvrc.org/saam.
FUNDING FOR RURAL HOUSING ASSESSMENTS & INNOVATION: The Iowa Economic Development Authority has announced two new grant programs for communities smaller than 20,000. Applications for both programs are due April 16. The Rural Housing Assessment Grant Program provides up to $100,000 for changes to codes, local ordinances and housing incentives in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The Rural Innovation Grant Program provides up to $300,000 for creative, nontraditional ideas that focus on current challenges faced by rural communities. More at: iowaeda.com/empower-rural-iowa/.