As you know, the governor announced some restrictions would be lifted for counties in Iowa experiencing decreasing or little to no COVID-19 activity. Starting May 1, restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, race tracks, and some retail establishments are allowed to reopen at half normal operating capacity, if they can still follow public health measures. We have been fortunate that the number of cases in Warren and Madison Counties have been relatively modest in comparison to the cases in the 22 top counties. You may have noticed that the number of confirmed cases continues to rise. It is believed that some of the increase is because of the more aggressive testing that is going on.
This policy applies to all counties except Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington, and Woodbury counties.
Statewide religious and spiritual gatherings will be allowed, if they can maintain social distancing guidelines and take measures to protect public health. Additionally, farmers markets will be allowed to open to sell farm products or food, again, as long as they can implement reasonable social distancing and public health measures. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued guidance for Iowa farmers markets with additional protective measures, such as prohibiting from anyone with a fever or illness in the last three days from entering farmers markets, providing easy access to hand-washing or hand-sanitizing stations, and encouraging online ordering when possible.
All other closures, including in the above counties, will continue until May 15.
The new proclamation from the governor is not a requirement that these establishments have to open. It is simply giving them, and all Iowans, the option and freedom to do so, while still protecting their health. The state continues to expand testing and data will continue to be monitored so the best decisions can be made to protect not just the health of Iowans, but also their livelihoods. As more data is collected and more Iowans get tested for COVID-19, we will be able to know more about how we can safely and responsibly continue to reopen the state. I urge you to keep limiting your trips to grocery stores, washing your hands often, and adhering to social distancing practices as much as you are able. As long as each of us continues to be responsible about the actions we take each day, we will be able to get back to a sense of normalcy sooner rather than later.
Throughout this pandemic, the governor has been working to strike a balance between protecting Iowans and keeping as much of our state working as possible. Meat production facilities are an indispensable part of the food supply chain as Iowa works to provide affordable food to the world. Shutting down these plants has a major impact across our economy. This impact is not limited just to farmers – it affects everyone. If the plants cannot operate, livestock cannot be processed and farmers will be forced into euthanizing some of their livestock. This has already happened to a limited extent. This reduces the supply of food, increasing prices in the coming months, and make it even more difficult for people to afford food in an uncertain economy, most significantly impacting lower-income Iowans and lower-income Americans.
Just as important as limiting the closures of those facilities is ensuring the safety of the workers and doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the virus. Public health officials have been working tirelessly to test impacted workers and ensure they have access to the care they need.
Because of the disruptions in the food supply chain leading to an excess of hogs, this week a new program called “Pass the Pork” was announced to help connect Iowa hog farmers with Iowans in need of food. The Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship are helping farmers donate pigs to Iowa food banks and food pantries. If you’d like to donate to help with processing, storage, and delivery costs, you can visit donorbox.org/passthepork.
A website and hotline have also been created to help connect Iowa’s livestock farmers with resources if they are facing a decision on disposing of their animals. Farmers can contact the hotline by calling 515-725-1005 from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday, or they can visit iowafarmerhelp.com.
The Iowa Department of Revenue recently updated its website with information on upcoming tax deadlines. If you have questions about some tax deadlines amid the various extensions that have been implemented, you can visit their website at https://tax.iowa.gov/important-upcoming-tax-deadlines.
The suspension of the legislative session has been extended to May 15. We are eager to get back to the capitol and continue our policy discussions and budget work. While we are waiting to see how the budget will be impacted by the pandemic, we still want to do what we can to ensure Iowa is the best place to live, work and raise a family. As I am sure you can understand, it is very difficult to estimate revenues for the upcoming fiscal year. In my opinion we must be very conservative in our budgeting for next year. It is much easier to make supplementary appropriations later on, if appropriate, than to make cuts because our revenue comes up short.