WATERLOO — A coalition of Cedar Valley leaders Tuesday called on U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson to support the proposed COVID-19 relief package, that would give financial help to families, schools, businesses, unemployed people, local governments and others.
The leaders held a news conference on video platform Zoom, which was hosted by the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans. Speakers who supported the relief bill included Black Hawk County supervisor Chris Schwartz, Waterloo human rights commission director the Rev. Abraham Funchess, Cedar Falls business owner Andrea Geary and Sue Dinsdale, executive director of Iowa Citizen Action Network and state director of Iowa Lower Drug Prices Now.
Hinson is a Republican who recently beat former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer to represent Iowa’s 1st District. She is serving a two-year term.
Schwartz said the $350 billion in the relief package slated for local and state governments would help mitigate the pandemic, help cover costs from COVID-19 and replace lost revenue. Black Hawk County would be eligible for about $25 million in supplemental funds, Schwartz said, based on an estimate from the National Association of Counties.
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He said the funds could be used in Black Hawk County to create a permanent warming center, provide housing assistance, create infrastructure and jobs and modernize the health department, which recently had its proposed budget cut by nearly $100,000 by the Board of Supervisors. Schwartz and his fellow supervisor Linda Laylin voted against the cut.
The federal minimum wage would increase by June 2025 to $15 per hour under the relief package. Hinson recently called the proposal “divisive” and said she would not support the increase.
“She’s saying that lifting families out of poverty for doing honest hard work is divisive, and that’s frankly ridiculous,” Schwartz said.
In a comment to The Courier, Hinson said she got input from many Iowans who want "targeted relief without all of the extra spending on unrelated policies that would hurt Iowan taxpayers." She said she heard from small business owners who benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers loans to help owners keep employees on payroll during COVID-19.
Funchess said the COVID-19 relief package would give “stability and dignity” to residents who need it most, including people who need help paying rent or utilities. He said it would especially benefit the state’s low-income residents.
“Our neighbors are hurting,” Funchess said. “This is real flesh and blood. These are real people here.”
He said his own experience contracting COVID-19 made him realize the physical and political asphyxiation caused by the pandemic. Funchess said it took him more than a month to recover from the virus, which caused him to be prescribed a steroid and put on oxygen.
“People really can’t breathe, and we need you to help supply that steroid, that oxygen that will allow us to breathe again,” Funchess said.
Hinson said she acknowledges that unemployment benefits and direct payments to people out of work "have helped many Iowans provide for their families."
"The next round of COVID-19 relief should focus on providing these critical lifelines, instead of pork barrel spending that abuses taxpayers," Hinson said in her statement to The Courier.
Milkbox Bakery business owner Andrea Geary said her primary goals include keeping people healthy and making sure her store survives. She praised the COVID-19 relief package for offering grants and low-interest loans to business owners, some of which specifically aim to uplift women and people of color.
“I know the last year as a small business owner has forced me to be extremely creative and employ quite a bit of ingenuity to keep the business open,” Geary said.
Dinsdale said the COVID-19 relief bill should not be interpreted as a “red” or “blue” issue. She lauded the bill’s funds to support COVID-19 testing, vaccine distribution and added public health workers. She said increased increasing lab capacity for COVID-19 tests and regular testing for schools would be beneficial.
“It has been nearly a year since Congress passed the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund,” Dinsdale said. “Now is the time for our elected representatives to take a strong stand.”