Gov. Reynolds: Despite budget surplus, Iowa won’t provide any new COVID-19 relief; ‘Congress needs to step up’

Gov. Kim Reynolds explains that Iowa doesn’t have the time or funds to pass new COVID-19 relief for Iowans at the Tuesday, Dec. 2 press conference. — video still

Gov. Kim Reynolds called on Congress to pass a new relief package to address COVID-19 needs, because Iowa won’t be dedicating any new state funds to help people and businesses, as she made clear on Tuesday.

“It’s time for Congress to come together and get a relief package passed and get some relief to our small businesses and Iowa families who are suffering,” Reynolds said, reading from prepared remarks at her news conference on Tuesday morning.

During the question period, Caroline Cummings of Iowa News Now pointed out that the Congress has little time left to act before its current term expires, and some governors are calling their legislatures into special session to provide relief to people since the federal government has failed to do so.

“At what point would you be willing to call a special session to try to use some money the state has that’s not federal funds to plug any gap?” Cummings asked Reynolds.

“Well, unfortunately there’s just not enough state funding to make everybody whole and that’s just a reality of what we’re dealing with. Because not only are the businesses impacted, Caroline, but also the supply chain,” the governor replied. “And then it’s about refilling the emergency funds and the ending balance.”

“So this is Congress needs to step up, they need to do their job. They need to come together and get it figured out.”

At the end of September, Reynolds announced the state had finished the fiscal year with a $305.5 million budget surplus, an increase from the previous fiscal year’s surplus of $289 million. The state also had cash reserves of more than $770 million.

The governor said on Sept. 30 that the state’s government had managed to turn the “obstacles” created by COVID-19 “into opportunities.”

“The actions we have taken this year will help Iowa emerge from this unprecedented pandemic stronger than ever before,” she said at the news conference announcing the budget surplus.

Beyond those funds, last month Iowa still had $82 million of $1.25 billion the federal government provided under the CARES Act to address pandemic needs in the state, according to a report issued by the Legislature Services Agency on Nov. 17.

As Cummings said, other governors are more willing to take action to address COVID-19 needs in their states. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called her state’s legislature into special session to provide pandemic relief. Lujan Grisham is a Democrat, but the legislature passed a relief package with bipartisan support last week, which the governor signed on Nov. 25.

The New Mexico relief package provides $300 million in grants for small businesses, $15 million in emergency housing assistance, $5 million in emergency food bank assistance, $5 million in assistance for low-income residents who “did not receive an ‘economic impact payment’ from the federal government,” as well as one-time supplemental payments of $1,200 to each of the almost 140,000 New Mexicans receiving unemployment benefits.

“This money will go directly back into the economy,” New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said of the $1,200 supplemental payments. “The people that have unemployment claims, it goes back out to rent, buy groceries, utilities, pay for child care — the things we talk about all the time.”

“We must remain vigilant in our fight against the virus,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement when she signed the relief bill into law. “We must continue to evaluate how we can get more assistance to more New Mexicans who need it in this time of crisis.”

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Reynolds also called for continued vigilance during her news conference on Tuesday. The governor said she found recent trends in virus activity in the state to be “reassuring,” but added, “we’re not out of the woods yet.”

“Now is not the time to let up on the efforts [to limit the spread of the virus],” Reynolds said. “So, I’m just asking Iowans to continue to do the right thing like you have been.”

Between 10 a.m. on Monday and 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 24 Iowans had died from the virus, including a resident of Linn County. It was the fifth time in the last seven days IDPH has reported more than 20 deaths in a 24-hour period, and brought the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 2,427.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reported by IDPH increased on Tuesday, with 1,172 confirmed cases in hospitals, 10 more patients than the department reported on Monday; 129 of those patients had been admitted during the preceding 24 hours, and 235 of them were being treated in intensive care units.

The surge in COVID-19 outbreaks in Iowa’s long-term care facilities continued on Tuesday, with a record-setting 162 facilities reporting ongoing outbreaks.

Overall, IDPH reported another 1,906 Iowans had tested positive during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The new cases increased the total number of Iowans who tested positive for the virus to 230,902.

At the county level, 80 residents of Johnson County were confirmed as having COVID-19 during that time period, according to IDPH. But in Linn County, the department reported 18 fewer cases on Tuesday morning than it did on Monday morning.

Previously, IDPH has reduced the cases totals for a county when it discovered the information for new cases, such as a person’s county of residence, had originally been misreported. Little Village emailed IDPH to ask why Linn County’s total had been reduced, and how many cases had been removed from the total.

A departmental spokesperson replied, saying she would work on getting answers to the questions, but had not provided those answers before IDPH’s offices closed for the day.