Disaster funds now available for Iowans recovering from July derecho

By: - July 26, 2022 5:01 pm

Darcie Torres’s Marion neighborhood deals with debris and damage from the derecho. (Photo submitted by Darcie Torres)

Iowans in five counties hit by a “derecho” storm in early July can now apply for disaster assistance for damage to homes, crops and more.

Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a disaster emergency this week for Allamakee, Clayton, Harrison, Shelby and Winneshiek counties, following the storms that hit July 5 across the state. Winds reached 70 miles per hour amid heavy thunderstorms. Reports of extensive crop damage and power outages came from across the state.

But it was nowhere near the damage caused by the derecho in August 2020. Winds reached a high of 140 miles per hour in Iowa, spawning some tornados, in addition to heavy rain and hail. In Cedar Rapids, one of the cities hit worst by the storm, 98% residents lost power, and over 1,000 homes were declared unsafe to occupy because of damage. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said the storm hit about 10 million acres of farmland, destroying growing and stored crops.

Brad Small, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said there was not a “whole lot of comparison” between the two storms. Iowa regularly sees a few major storms each year – and has this year – but the 2020 derecho was different in both severity and impact.

“They were both derechos, but in 2020, that was a wider event and higher magnitude,” he said. “A storm classified as a derecho can still cause a lot of damage, but the 2020 storm went directly through Cedar Rapids, so that’s going to make it different than one that goes through mainly rural areas.”

But even with a smaller impact, businesses, farms and individuals faced damages from the July weather. With the disaster proclamation, those impacted that are looking to rebuild can now access government funds to help with the process. Assistance from the state, including the Individual Disaster Assistance Grant program and Disaster Case Management program becomes available for people in areas covered when the governor issues a disaster proclamation. Federal funds, like those from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are also available.

To get state funding through the individual grant program, a household must apply within 45 days of the proclamation. People impacted who are within 200% of the federal poverty line can get up to $5,000 for home or car repairs, clothing and food, and temporary housing expenses.

The disaster case management program is for larger rebuilding projects and has a longer timeline at 180 days. To get these funds, a household must work with a community action agency to set up a plan for whatever services are required, like reconstructing a home.

The July derecho wasn’t the only storm this year that has merited a disaster proclamation from Reynolds. Funds are still available under the case management program under seven disaster proclamations, including one for tornados in southwestern Iowa in March, which killed six people in Winterset.

While this year’s storm was not as bad as the 2020 derecho, Democrats in national office are hoping to secure more disaster funding for the future. The USDA just finished accepting emergency relief funding applications from farmers for the 2020 storm last Friday. In a June visit to Iowa, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said climate change will cause more natural disasters across the country, and that the government must prepare to meet relief funding needs.

“Climate’s having an impact,” Vilsack said. “And we’ve got to understand the flexibility and need to not only mitigate the consequences of it and be able to adapt to the consequences of it, but also to be able to respond to the disasters it’s going to create.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.