Ernst makes Tama County stop

Sen. Joni Ernst (right) visits with Traer Chamber of Commerce President Michelle Podhajsky (center) during a downtown tour on August 19. Darvin Graham/North Tama Telegraph

Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, made a visit to Tama County on August 19 during a tour that was focused on the business community as well as impacts of the August 10 derecho.

Ernst met with over a dozen individuals from the Traer area at a closed event at the Farm to Flame Bar & Grill in Traer before taking a walking tour through the downtown area.

Those present at the engagement included small business owners, Traer Chamber of Commerce members, city officials, and representatives from Iowa Farm Bureau, Farmer’s Savings Bank & Trust, and the Tama County Republicans.

Ernst fielded questions from the group and spoke on a variety of topics.

In her opening remarks Ernst touched on the Presidential Major Disaster Declaration that was announced in response to the Iowa derecho. She indicated that the Individual Assistance Program portion of the declaration that was requested by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds was needing to meet some additional checkpoints before becoming approved but that it should be coming soon.

Sen. Ernst made a stop at the Simply Blooming flower shop and boutique during her downtown tour in Traer on August 19. Pictured are, from left, Lisa Eikamp, Patty Suess, and Sen. Joni Ernst. Photo Provided

Tama County was one of 27 counties that were included in the request for the FEMA Individual Assistance Program. On August 20 it was announced that Linn County was approved to receive funding for the Individual Assistance Program that could offer reimbursement funds to individuals and families who lost property or sustained damage to their property during the derecho.

According to a statement from the Governor’s office, additional counties may be approved for the Individual Assistance Program as FEMA continues to review damage assessments.

Much discussion was had throughout the 45 minute Q&A session around the COVID-19 pandemic. Ernst remarked early on that plans were slowly moving forward for a second piece of coronavirus relief legislation.

“We’re planning on, hopefully an additional support package but we don’t know what that will look like yet,” Sen. Ernst said. “It will probably be a skinny version of what we had proposed earlier last month. We’re just struggling to get everyone together on one page.”

Cordt Holub, a young Tama County farmer who was present as a voting member of the Tama County Farm Bureau, thanked Ernst for her support of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that have played roles in assisting agriculture businesses through the ongoing economic challenges of COVID-19.

Ernst said that in the proposed second coronavirus aid package being developed by Senate Republicans an additional $20 billion would be given to the USDA for agriculture aid if the plan was approved.

Although there were no specifics in terms of what exact programs would receive the funding, Ernst left open the possibility for CFAP to be a destination for some of those funds.

Speaking on the current trade deal with China, Ernst shared what she believed was positive progress.

“I did talk with U.S. Trade Representative Bob Leithauser last week,” Ernst said. “He gave me an update on (the trade deal) and China is behind on phase one. So they’re not as far behind as I thought they were, but they’re still a little behind. But at the end of July, we did see an all time record purchase from China, which just tells me they really, really need our commodities right now. They’re suffering too. I think they were maybe at about 74% of their obligations so far.”

Ernst also said she was aware of pressure being put on President Trump to broadly apply a January decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that denied a number of EPA waivers that would have allowed two oil refineries to circumvent their ethanol fuel requirements as stated in the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Rick Krug, Vice President with Farmer’s Savings Bank & Trust, inquired of Ernst when she thought small business PPP loan forgiveness applications would begin to be approved.

Ernst said that portion of the program was still being worked on but hoped to see a vote on changes to the PPP program within the next couple of weeks.

She went on to describe some of her hopes for the PPP program as Congress works to pass their second relief bill.

“When I was in Grinnell, the banker there, he said that 86% of his PPP loans were less than $150,000,” said Ernst. “So we would just say automatic forgiveness for those businesses that took a loan out for under $150,000. That would be really, really felt.”

“We’re just operating under good faith that these businesses did what they were supposed to do with those dollars. That would be the easiest way. So I’m hoping we can get that done, I don’t know if it’ll happen, but I am hoping we can get that done, and then we’ll provide further guidance.”

Following the group discussion Ernst took a tour down the business district along 2nd Street in Traer. Among other places, she made brief stops at the Simply Blooming flower and gift shop, Reuman’s Clothing, and the Salt & Pepper Shaker Gallery.

The Traer Chamber of Commerce assisted in coordinating the business tour last Wednesday. Chamber President Michelle Podhajsky felt encouraged by the visit and expressed gratitude for the Senator’s time.

“The opportunity to showcase Traer and exchange views on local issues with Senator Ernst and her staff was appreciated,” Podhajsky said. “We were honored to host the Senator and to be included on her 99 County Iowa Tour.”