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Iowa lawmakers consider fix for veteran assistance fund that ran out of money

Iowa Capitol with snow
Michael Leland
/
IPR file
A bill that aims to prevent future funding shortfalls for emergency assistance for Iowa veterans got first-round approval by a House panel Wednesday.

A bill that aims to prevent future funding shortfalls for emergency assistance for Iowa veterans got first-round approval by a House panel Wednesday. But the money for this fiscal year ran out in October, and lawmakers are discussing ideas for fixing that.

The Iowa State Veterans Trust Fund allocates $500,000 each year to help veterans pay for medical care, counseling, and home and car repairs. The bill that moved forward in the House with bipartisan support would raise that amount to $800,000 beginning July 1, 2023.

In the meantime, Rep. Martin Graber, R-Fort Madison, said he thinks the legislature needs to put additional money into the current fiscal year’s budget so veterans can get help between now and July.

“Right now, we have bills that aren’t getting paid,” Graber said. “We have veterans who were told, ‘Hey, we will take care of that bill,’ and it’s not paid. So, yes…the way I look at it, there’s a sense of urgency.”

Graber said the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs recently had a year where they spent much more money on helping veterans than usual after the commission allowed more veterans to qualify for assistance.

Carol Whitmore, Iowa VFW Commander and member of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, said more money is needed to help veterans as costs have risen amid inflation.

“So when a veteran comes to us that needs a roof repair, it’s almost double from what it used to be,” Whitmore said. “So we’re just trying to help those veterans that can’t help themselves. And that’s our whole purpose.”

A group of Democrats in the Senate introduced a separate bill that would allocate an additional $500,000 dollars in the current fiscal year and each year going forward for veterans’ needs, bringing the annual total to $1 million. That bill has not yet had a hearing in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said the Republican majority should be fast-tracking a fix for the funding shortfall for veterans assistance, not the bill to create state-funded accounts families could use to pay for private school.

“That is a topic that should bring Iowans of every political background together, thanking our veterans for their service,” he said.

It’s not clear when funding for veterans assistance may come up for a vote in the Iowa Legislature.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter