This week the legislature officially reconvened session after the hiatus brought on by COVID-19. I am excited to get back to work with my colleagues and pick up where we left off.
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, broadband internet access has always important to me, and we got a bit of good news this week regarding it. Governor Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education announced Monday that the state has received $26.2 million in federal relief to ensure education continues for students of all ages impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa’s grant is part of the nearly $3 billion Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The GEER fund allows governors to determine how to best meet the needs of students in public and non-public schools, postsecondary institutions, and other education-related organizations.
Better enabling remote learning for K-12 and postsecondary students is the goal of Iowa’s GEER application. It focuses on providing and expanding broadband access and improving access to technology in other ways. That could include providing Wi-Fi hotspots and devices. Funding also may be used to offer professional development related to remote learning to educators in school districts and non-public schools as well as in public and private colleges and universities.
“Rapidly expanding and improving broadband access is essential for our state’s future,” said Gov. Reynolds. “As we have seen with a pandemic and an ever-changing economy, learning must continue beyond the classroom. These resources will equip Iowa schools and educators to pave a pathway for student success in the growing digital classroom and future workplace.”
“Superintendents told us better connectivity is what they need most to provide high-quality learning for all students during the pandemic,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. “We have students without access to the technology they need and Iowa’s GEER grant is an important step toward solving that problem. I am so proud of the work school leaders and teachers are doing, and that we can help support it in this way.”
The Iowa Department of Education in collaboration with the State Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is conducting a statewide survey regarding barriers Iowans face to remote learning, including broadband access. The household survey targets families with K-12 students but also asks about college students. The intent is to prioritize areas of the state with the greatest need based on the survey results.
These GEER funds are in addition to the $71.6 million Iowa received in federal relief for PK-12 schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund within the CARES Act.
The Iowa Department of Education will provide more information soon about how the GEER funding will be allocated.
Additionally, we received a bit more clarity about the economic effects of COVID-19 this week.
The Revenue Estimating Conference met last Friday afternoon to revise their estimates for fiscal years 2020, 2021, and 2022. The meeting was one of the longer meetings in recent memory, as the panel held an extensive discussion on what they envision for state revenue numbers in Fiscal Year 2021. All three members of the REC emphasized that the new figures were subject to change, based on the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Fiscal Year 2020 – For the current fiscal year, the REC lowered the General Fund forecast. They set the current year’s revenue estimate to $7.9412 billion. This would be a 1.0 percent increase in state revenue over Fiscal Year 2019’s actual collections. The FY 2020 budget with the supplementals approved this year, spends $7.752 billion.
Fiscal Year 2021 – For the next budget year, the REC new estimates for General Fund revenue is $7.8766 billion. This amount is $360.1 million lower than the March estimate of $8.2367 billion. The new figure is also $64.6 million lower than what the REC set for the revised FY 2020 forecast, or a decline of 0.8 percent.
Fiscal Year 2022 – The panel also revised its forecast of state revenue in Fiscal Year 2022, the REC projected that General Fund revenue would be $8.1995 billion. This would be revenue growth of 4.1 percent or a $322.9 million increase over the current FY 21 projection.
Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund – The REC also projects gaming tax revenue, which funds the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund. The panel is expecting gaming tax revenue in Fiscal Year 2020 to be $72.9 million lower than the March forecast. With this reduction, the RIIF budget will be short of funds for the current fiscal year ending June 30. In Fiscal Year 2021, the REC projected that gaming tax revenue will be $25 million lower than what was projected in March.
Finally, I would like to share an update on the Governor’s policy regarding foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 situation. In March, Governor Reynolds placed a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the moratorium ended meaning some Iowans could face losing their homes or being evicted if they have fallen behind in payments. Recognizing the seriousness of the issue, the Governor and the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) have introduced the COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program to help Iowans facing housing problems.
The Federal CARES Act provided money to Iowa to help those impacted by COVID-19. The money is being divided up amongst state agencies to help with various needs. IFA has set the guidelines for Iowans seeking assistance through the Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program.
Rental Assistance: Rental assistance is available for up to four months, beginning with April 1st rent payment. This money can be used to help with current rent payments, as well as up to two months of missed rental payments. A maximum of $3,200 per person is available. This includes manufactured home rent and lot rent.
Mortgage Payment Assistance: Mortgage assistance is available for up to four months, beginning with April 1st mortgage payment. This money can be used to help with current mortgage payments, as well as up to two months of missed mortgage payments. A maximum of $3,000 per person is available.
- Current renters and homeowners
- Those at risk of eviction or foreclosure due to a documented COVID-19 related loss of income on or after March 17, 2020
- The household income cannot exceed 80% of the median family income in the county at the time of application.
- Applicants cannot be currently receiving the $600 additional federal CARES Act stimulus unemployment benefits.
The Governor has allocated $22 million to the program. The money will be paid directly to the landlord or mortgage service provider and will be provided on a first come first serve basis. Additional information can be found https://www.iowafinance.com/covid-19-iowa-eviction-and-foreclosure-prevention-program/ and those without internet access can call 855-300-5885.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it truly is good to be back at the Statehouse conducting the people’s business. I appreciate every day I get to serve the people of House District 79, and I look forward to finishing what we started in January.