Vice President Mike Pence toured flood damage in southwest Iowa on Friday. He is trying to help Iowa and other Midwest states affected by flooding get disaster relief funding that is stalling in the Senate.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds estimated last month that flooding has done at least $1.6 billion in damage to the state and is the amount that’s needed for communities to recover. The money is part of a $13.5 billion disaster aid package that has stalled in Congress.
Pence joined Reynolds and Iowa’s U.S. Senators on a tour of Lincoln Ridgeview Farms near Pacific Junction, a century-old farm in southwest Iowa damaged by historic flooding. He promised people they would get the support they need to bounce back from the devastation.
“And we are going to rebuild all these communities and families and homes and farms bigger and better than ever before,” Pence said.
The $13.5 billion disaster aid bill failed to get through the Senate this month because most Democrats said it didn’t do enough to help with hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico. Pence acknowledged the wave of Democrats coming to Iowa to campaign ahead of the caucuses, who voted against disaster assistance.
“There will be plenty of time for politics when 2020 comes around. Right now Iowa needs disaster assistance and it’s time for Congress to act,” Pence said.
The devastation from flooding in Pacific Junction – including the debris, mud and high waters – was all too familiar to Sen. Joni Ernst, who served in the area in the Iowa Army National Guard in 2011, the same year of the previous record flood along the Missouri River.
“To see this type of devastation all over again, is just, it’s heartbreaking,” Ernst said. “…So we will step up, work as Congress, we’ll work with the administration and make sure that we’re getting the assistance necessary for these families and these communities.”
Last month, a mix of snowmelt, frozen ground, rain and rapidly warming temperatures triggered major flooding across western Iowa.
As of March 27, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported 54 confirmed levee breaches along the Missouri River, which are causing more water to flow in and stay in and around cities. The damaged levees have sparked a lot of concerns about how easily areas will flood when more rain hits this spring.
The corps said in an April 11 news release that it is making progress on getting funding and awarding the contracts to repair the levees.
“We got work to do,” Pence said. “But the immediate needs are $1.6 billion.”
There are two large breaches on the levee system that protects Dennis Lincoln's family farm near Pacific Junction. One of them is about 100 yards wide, he said.
“So if the river comes up again, there’s nothing to keep the water from running out on our fields again,” Lincoln said. “So it’s devastating, it really is.”
Lincoln said it’s unclear if crop insurance will cover the farm this year, “because we have no protection from the river.” He acknowledged Pence’s visit to his farm, saying the vice president was “so personable, it was just like talking to a neighbor.” He said he hopes Pence will be able to help him and everyone else in Mills County.
“It’s important that they understand in Washington what our plight is out here," Lincoln said. "And he can take that information back and hopefully get us some assistance.”