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House File 2569 is intended to help address a lack of skilled workers in Iowa and help the people of Puerto Rico. The bill would provide taxpayer money to help people from Puerto Rico relocated to Iowa.

Julie Smith, who represents the Iowa Association of Community Providers, said the group is looking at the legislation from a workforce perspective. Smith said the group is registered for the bill.

Brad Hartkopf of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said the group supports the bill.

“One of the biggest things holding back our economy is the lack of skilled workers,” Hartkopf said. “Anything that we can do to bring more people into the state is a positive thing.”

Rep. Joe Mitchell (R-Mount Pleasant) discussed the legislation.

“Why I created this bill was because I’ve seen the lack of workforce, number one,” Mitchell said. “Number two, the declining population in our state. The aging population in our state. So, one of the ideas I had was starting a matching fund, which could be administered through (Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) to be able to relocate people from Puerto Rico to come to Iowa.”

Mitchell said he identified Puerto Rico because the last couple of years they have had severe natural disasters, a crumbling economy and thousands of people who were educated have come to the States.

“Kind of identified them as a unique circumstance where we can go get educated workers,” he said.

In Mitchell County, 20 families have been relocated. Mitchell said he visited with them in October.

“Besides the cold, they were having a great time in Iowa and enjoy the quality of life they have,” he said. “I just think this is a great way to be able to increase our population as a state, but also increased our skilled workforce.”

Rep. Jacob Bossman (R-Sioux City) said he supports the bill. The $250,000 appropriation is “much smaller” than what it was when first discussed. It provides a $2,500 grant for 100 families.

“That’s a start,” Bossman said. “I think that’s a prudent investment to make.”

Mitchell said it costs $5,000 to relocate a family of four from Puerto Rico to Iowa. So, this matching grant should help 100 families move to Iowa in the next year. He is hopeful if the plan works the appropriation will go up next year.

Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) asked who brought the 20 families here that are already here.

Mitchell said Jennifer Andrade, who started Avance USA, quit her job to start a staffing agency to specifically bring people from Puerto Rico to Iowa.

“She has a lot of passion for the people of Puerto Rico and also the state of Iowa,” Mitchell said. “She started a staffing agency and I’ve been working with her the last few months.”

Mascher said her concern is housing.

“Housing is probably one of the biggest barriers to people being able to come and settle in a location,” she said. “And affordable housing. Obviously, when they’re coming, they need that support.”

Currently, employers are paying the full $5,000 to relocate Puerto Ricans to Iowa.

“What this does is, it shows businesses that the state, we approve of doing this and it maybe helps them a little bit more branch out there and do this because they know they’re going to be matched by the state,” Mitchell said.

Mascher said schools will see a benefit with a population increase as well, especially in rural communities.

Rep. Ray Sorensen (R-Greenfield) said he thinks it is a responsibly put together pilot program.

“I think it makes sense,” Sorensen said. “I’m recommending passage and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.”

Mitchell said that while people often ask why he’s specifically trying to recruit people from Puerto Rico, it makes more sense after he explains the unique circumstances.

“I think this is a win-win,” he said.