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Congresswoman Cindy Axne Addresses Flood Recovery Funds During Mills County Visit

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

Flood recovery funding dominated the discussion Sunday afternoon during U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne’s stop in Mills County.

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Iowa’s Third District representative met with constituents after touring the production facility at Keg Creek Brewing Co.

“We’re working to get the funding to folks who need it,” Axne told her Glenwood audience. “The (disaster recovery) bill finally got passed, thank goodness, even though a lot of people tried to stop it along the way.”

The $19 billion disaster recovery bill passed in May included $4 billion earmarked to help Midwest states recover from spring flooding. Initially, the bill included $3 billion for the Midwest flooding, but amendments written by Axne and other representatives from flood-impacted states brought an additional $1 billion to the bill. The additional funds included federal highway and transportation money for cleaning up roads, shoring up the banks of flooded rivers and making repairs at Offutt Air Force base and other military installations.

“We got almost $4 billion specifically for Midwest floods,” Axne said.  “I was really thrilled with that, but now what we have to do is make sure it gets into the hands of the people who need it.

“After that, we’ll be looking at more community block grants to make sure our communities are rebuilding in a way that it provides them some economic opportunity and growth.”

Mills County Supervisor Richard Crouch told Axne he’s appreciative of her efforts, but he’s hearing from flood-impacted residents who are frustrated that the funds allocated in the disaster bill have been slow in trickling down to local communities.

“What we need right now is help for people who want to rebuild. They’re sitting here waiting,” Crouch said. “These people are going to get discouraged and leave. We don’t need them to leave. The money’s been allocated. It’s in the state’s hands, but here we are looking around to see where it’s going to land.

“It’s great we got the money, but if people can’t use it, it does us no good.”

Axne said she’s heard similar concerns expressed by builders who are waiting to get the green light to come into flood-impacted communities and start the rebuilding process. Axne said her office is working closely with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ staff to assist flood-impacted residents and businesses and to make sure the federal funds are properly allocated.
Axne, who took office in January, said it became apparent when the flooding began in March that the federal government has no clear-cut plan or process in place to deal with disasters.

“Washington has no plan to deal with disasters. It’s a convoluted process,” she said. “Disasters will always happen, but we shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time a community goes through something like this. The process is not well documented.”

While repairs are being made to Missouri River levees damaged during the spring flooding, Axne said long-term improvements won’t occur unless changes are made to the Army Corps of Engineers legal authority and manuals are updated. She said extreme weather events, like the bomb cyclone that sent the Platte River on a rampage last March, are becoming more common.

“Right now, what the Corps has is authority that truly functions over mapping from the 1940s and 50s weather patterns,” she said.  “We’ve changed a lot since then and they have not been able to keep up with managing infrastructure in those scenarios.

“Obviously, exteme weather patterns are occurring at a much greater rate because of climate change. Right now, they’re going to build these levees to the height that they have legal authority to do and that’s not going to be good enough (for the long term). Manuals must be updated. These first repairs are a band-aid.  They are simply going to fix the situation at hand.”

Axne said the Corps has some blame for the spring flooding, but the agency “is between a rock and a hard place.”
“Legally, we’re going to have to change their responsibility and their opportunity for fixing things that work for today,” she said. “I want to fix those things because I don’t want to see this happen again.”

In an interview with The Opinion-Tribune, Axne said her first six months on the job have been eventful, noting that she’s a member of the first freshman class to enter office during a government shutdown. The flooding in southwest Iowa, she said, is by far the biggest issue she’s dealt with since taking office.

“Obviously, I think we have a lot of issues in our country that people aren’t communicating well together about and we have a lot of divisiveness, but I hold out a lot of hope,” she said. “I’m really pleased about what I’ve been able to do for our state and I’m pleased that we have a lot of louder voices for the Midwest right now and I think that is so important for our regional economic opportunities.”

Despite the dysfunction and partisan politics in Washington, Axne said she’s been successful in working with representatives from both parties in adopting legislation on rural health and ag-related issues.

“I know there’s opportunity to work with people, and you have to seek them out,” Axne said. “Where I’ve had better opportunities is to work with Republicans who come from rural areas. I’ve been able to work on rural health care bills, access to capital for rural entrepreneurs. I have found people who will work with me on those issues.”

Axne said both Democratic and Republican representatives are frustrated with the Senate’s lack of action on several bills that were approved in the House.

“The unfortunate thing is that the Senate won’t take anything up and many of these bills are bipartisan,” she said. “These are Republicans and Democrats working together and (Sen. Mitch) McConnell is refusing to take them up. We’re moving bills forward, but they’re going nowhere and that’s just wrong.

“We’re a better country than that and I can tell you the people in Iowa want to see bipartisanship. We always have differences in opinion on some issues within the parties, but the stuff that isn’t moving forward should have nothing to do with that. This is about peoples’ health and livelihood. It’s really disappointing that we’re seeing this right now.”