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Rep. Upmeyer reflects on rural development in Iowa


This news story was published on May 26, 2019.
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Rep. Upmeyer: “Had a great chance to visit with students from Garner-Hayfield-Ventura Middle School while they were in Des Moines on a class trip to tour the Capitol.”

The following is a legislative update from GOP Rep. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake, Speaker of the Iowa House:

After one of the longest winters in recent memory, the snow has switched to rain and we would all like to see nicer weather as we near the end of the school year. With several graduation ceremonies taking place, I want to congratulate and wish good luck to all the area seniors who are moving on start their next adventure! I’m so proud to see all the awards and accomplishments as I read our local news.

I hope everyone has a safe Memorial Day weekend and takes some time to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We owe a debt of gratitude to the servicemen and women who have given their lives to keep us free and protected.

When we began the 2019 session, we said that we wanted to make revitalizing rural Iowa one of our top priorities this session. We set a goal of looking for ways to push more opportunity to our rural communities and tried to incorporate that into many of the bills passed this session.

Part of this plan included the Empower Rural Iowa Act, proposed by Governor Reynolds, to bring broadband connectivity and affordable housing to rural parts of the state.

When you think of reliable, high-speed internet, you’re likely wanting it because your Netflix or Facebook page is loading slower than you’d like. However, this is a much bigger issue that impacts employers and workers as well. The internet has completely changed the way we live our lives and go about our days. Reliable broadband has become a necessary tool for businesses to sell their products, manage employees, and operate efficiently. It also provides Iowans with the ability to work from home so they have the opportunity to live outside of the larger urban areas in smaller communities.

To help spur development, we created a $5 million broadband grant program as part of the Empower Rural Iowa Act. These grants will be awarded to qualifying service providers with the goal of building the infrastructure to expand high speed internet to underserved areas in rural Iowa. This will help to better connect our communities, schools, and farms with an ever-growing technology that continues to improve our daily lives.

Another issue that our rural communities face is the lack of available housing. It becomes incredibly difficult for businesses to grow and expand when homes aren’t available for new workers. We worked to address this in past sessions by expanding a workforce housing tax credit program. Changes made this session will earmark 40% of these credits to be targeted at Iowa’s smallest cities and counties. This will encourage the development of affordable housing in rural areas and help ensure that businesses are able to attract workers to their communities.

In addition to the Empower Rural Iowa Act, we also looked at ways to improve education and health care in rural Iowa.

Iowa’s rural schools face an inequity when it comes to transportation costs. Due the larger geographic size of some of our rural districts, these schools have much higher transportation costs getting kids to and from school. That means that less money is making its way into the classroom to actually educate students.

This is an issue that we have studied in the past, and last year provided rural schools with additional funding ($11.2 million) to reduce those unequal transportation costs. However, this funding was only for one year as we wanted to see how beneficial it was to schools. This year, after hearing positive feedback from schools, we made the funding stream permanent and increased our commitment to $20 million per year.

The extension of the SAVE penny, used for school infrastructure, will also greatly benefit rural schools who need to rebuild or renovate aging buildings and upgrade security.

When it comes to health care, one of the biggest struggles rural Iowa faces is attracting providers. We passed legislation this session that will require taxpayer-funded medical residency programs to give preference to Iowans or applicants with Iowa ties. We know that native Iowans and those with a connection are more likely to live and work in Iowa once their training is complete. In addition, we required these residencies to provide students with the opportunity to do a rotation that exposes them to rural parts of the state.

We also wanted to ensure that Iowans living in rural areas have access to high quality health care facilities. That is why we provided additional funding to our state’s 82 “critical access hospitals” that serve rural Iowa. These hospitals provide 24/7 access to care and are often economic drivers, employing many people in our communities. This includes area providers like Franklin General Hospital in Hampton and Hansen Family Hospital in Iowa Falls.

I am incredibly proud of our efforts to bring more opportunity to Iowa’s rural communities. As someone who has spent her life living in rural Iowa, I can attest to the wonderful lifestyle that our small towns and communities provide. I am hopeful that our reforms this session will make rural Iowa an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please feel free to reach out. You can contact me by email at Linda.Upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-3551.

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