I wanted to give you an update on a few things I have been working on for Iowans during the week of May 4.
Friday, May 8, I was so pleased to have Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue back in the state to hear directly from Iowans. Along with Governor Reynolds and Senator Grassley, we participated in a discussion with faith leaders from around the state and a roundtable with food and agriculture leaders focused on safely ensuring a secure food supply chain.
Support for Rural Hospitals
Iowa’s small rural hospitals, clinics, and community health centers are vital to folks across our state. These essential health care providers faced many challenges before this pandemic hit, and now, more than ever, they need assistance to make ends meet, maintain staff, and keep serving Iowans. That’s why I fought hard and was able to secure $383,318,585 for Iowa’s rural health care providers.
And just like small businesses, our rural hospitals are also experiencing significant financial losses and are in need of relief – which is why I worked across the aisle to make sure they were included in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This week, I was glad to announce that through a fix I helped secure, Iowa’s publicly-owned hospitals with 500 or fewer employees are now eligible for the relief provided through the PPP.
Paycheck Protection Program Success Seen in Iowa
With 99% of Iowa’s businesses being small businesses, I understand how vital the Paycheck Protection Program is for Iowa’s workers and employees.
Earlier this week, I highlighted the stories of two Iowa organizations that have benefitted from the PPP, Grace United Methodist Church in Glenwood and the Iowa Behavioral Health Association.
These are just two, of many examples, of how the PPP has helped businesses keep their doors open and employees paid.
Rewarding National Guard Troops Fighting COVID-19
There are over 850 Iowa National Guardsmen actively helping in the fight against COVID-19. As a former Iowa Army National Guardsmen, I could not be more proud of their tireless and selfless efforts. That’s why I’ve proposed a bill that directs the Pentagon to provide tax-free hazardous duty pay, with back pay, for these hardworking men and women on the front lines of this pandemic.
Sergeant Major (retired) Frank Yoakum, Executive Director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States said this about my bill:
“Our National Guard men and women have been called upon, once again, by the nation’s leadership to help combat the novel coronavirus pandemic in America. The risks are great; so are the hazards. By definition, Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay is a monetary incentive for volunteers who perform hazardous duty based upon the inherent dangers of that duty and the risks of physical injury. EANGUS agrees with Senator Joni Ernst that the duty our National Guard members are performing embodies that risk, and should receive Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay for COVID-19 response duty.”
I’m also working with my Democratic colleague Senator Manchin of West Virginia on a bill to provide transitional health care benefits to National Guard servicemembers who have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We need to make sure these hardworking men and women can use their military health insurance, TRICARE, for at least six months after their mission. This is common sense and will take a huge burden of worry off our military families.
In addition, I sent a letter to President Trump asking that he grant Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ request to extend the authorization of the Iowa National Guard to serve in Title 32 status through June 30, 2020.
Fighting for Iowa’s Ag Community
Our farmers and ranchers are feeling the impact of COVID-19, and Iowa’s egg industry is no different.
In a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, I urged the department to include egg producers in the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program and to consider purchasing liquid egg product to distribute to families in need.
Additionally, in a bipartisan letter to President Trump, my Senate colleagues and I explained the importance of upholding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), especially during COVID-19, which has already caused harm to the biofuels community, and the detrimental impacts waiving the RFS would have on employment, farmers, food security, fuel prices, and the environment.
Together, we urged the president to reject all calls to waive the RFS.
Water Infrastructure Package Advances in Senate
While we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m also working with Democrats and Republicans to strengthen our water infrastructure, especially our flood control systems, in order to protect our communities and support commerce on our waterways. This week I helped advance major water infrastructure legislation out of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
As Iowans continue to recover from the 2018 and 2019 flooding, my provisions in this package will help ensure the Army Corps is spending your tax dollars wisely and taking the right steps to protect our state from future floods, especially our communities in Southwest Iowa and along the Missouri River.
Stay Safe and Stay Strong
Folks, as we continue to battle this invisible enemy, I want you to know that I’m fighting hard for you. I continue to listen to and hear from Iowans across the state, and bring your stories and struggles with me. Together we’ll get through this. Stay safe and stay strong.
For more updates on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and Iowa, be sure to ‘Like’ my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter @SenJoniErnst, and subscribe to my YouTube channel.