Jan 12, 2023 - News

Iowa Lawmakers vow to fix veterans emergency budget

Illustration of a post-it note that says "DENIED" stuck to a green toy soldier.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Efforts are underway to allocate more money to an Iowa veterans emergency assistance program, multiple legislative officials told Axios Wednesday.

  • The program's budget was depleted in October, due to high demand.
  • Grants are currently paused until at least July 1 when the state's new fiscal year begins.

Why it matters: The program helps low-income veterans avoid financial disruptions that can lead to homelessness.

  • People are being turned away daily, Patrick Sweeney, Polk County's veterans service officer, told Axios this week.

Catch up fast: Lawmakers created the Iowa State Veterans Trust Fund 20 years ago to help pay for things like urgent house repairs, medical equipment costs and vehicle fixes.

State of play: Eligibility requirements were expanded in 2021 in recognition of increased burdens on veterans caused by events like derechos and the pandemic.

  • But a legislative effort last year to increase total annual fund disbursements from $500K to $800K failed.
  • As a result, October was the first time since 2012 that the program's budget was depleted, Iowa Public Radio reports.

The intrigue: The trust fund's balance is about $40 million.

  • Lawmakers have for years limited program spending with a goal to make the fund self-sustaining by using interest earnings to pay for annual disbursements.

Of note: Iowa's got a nearly $2 billion budget surplus, the largest in state history, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in November.

  • Polk, the state's largest county, is trying to help veterans apply for other emergency assistance programs but is often left advising applicants to come back when trust fund grants resume, Sweeney said.

What we're watching: Discussions are underway to provide supplemental funding, Sen. Jeff Reichman, R-Montrose and chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, told Axios Wednesday.

  • Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, and a ranking member of the committee, are also working on a proposal, Senate spokesperson Jason Noble told Axios.

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