MT. PLEASANT — Although representing rural Iowa in Washington, D.C., may not always be easy, Sen. Chuck Grassley still is making rounds to rural communities in the state to hear and learn from constituents about local challenges.
The senator met with Mt. Pleasant business leaders on Tuesday as part of his 99-county tour. The stop in Henry County followed a meeting in Columbus Junction earlier in the day.
He will be in Fairfield on Wednesday.
When Mt. Pleasant resident and local contractor Ted Wiley asked Grassley to share what the senator felt were the biggest challenges facing rural Iowa, Grassley listed off low agriculture prices, a lack of qualified workforce and the stagnation of the state’s education system.
“I think the biggest battle is agriculture. Only 2 percent of the people in this country produce the food for the other 98 percent. People in New York think food comes out of supermarkets … it’s a big responsibility to explain what’s going on,” Grassley said about conveying the unique obstacles of rural America.
The senator addressed questions about the continuation of aid programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which have been vital for small businesses in the area hit by the pandemic.
“I’m concerned that we’re not seeing the worst of it until later this fall. Are you envisioning some of those programs continuing?” Kristi Ray, Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance’s executive vice president, asked.
Grassley noted congress recently passed legislation to extend the application deadline for the PPP program to the end of the year, of which approximately $150 billion still is available for businesses across the country. The senator added he doesn’t anticipate a second round of legislation but rather a continuation of current programs already in place.
In response to comments about his opposition to the $600 unemployment checks provided by the federal government, Grassley noted he felt the assistance “isn’t justified because in some places, the cost of living is more than other places.”
“The $600 for a lot of people are paying people more not to work than to work,” he said.
Ray posed another question to Grassley about “who to trust” in terms of information about the coronavirus.
The senator encouraged Iowans to “listen to the scientist and public health people more than the politicians.” He added that he felt Gov. Kim Reynolds handled the response to the pandemic “very well,” and Iowa has been “very fortunate.”
“We are one of eight states that didn’t shut down completely, and it seems like we came through it very well,” he said.
In both Mt. Pleasant and Columbus Junction, Grassley chimed in on the perceived partisanship of Congress and the deep division in the country.
“I think it’s going to be divided for a long time … hopefully it improves,” he said, but pushed back on the idea that Republicans and Democrats in the legislature do not work together.
“Is there too much partisanship in Congress? Yes, there is, but not as much as you might think,” he added.
During his meeting with constituents in Louisa County, Grassley answered questions around the removal of Confederate monuments.
“I think we have a responsibility to … protect what monuments are on federal property,” he said, adding that he felt there “should be a process to determining” whether a monument should be taken down.
“It seems to me we ought to have it determined by some sort of process of how they come down and if they come down as opposed to having mobs tear them down,” he said.