Iowa’s federal delegation aims to combat rural population decline through federal funds

Iowa’s elected officials share bipartisan support for the issue of population decline in rural Iowa. Solving that issue draws a partisan line in the sand.


Matt Sindt

Photo illustration by Matt Sindt.

Liam Halawith, Politics Reporter

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a series on rural population decline in Iowa.

Iowa’s federal delegation members of mostly Republicans voiced bipartisan support for helping rural Iowa counties, which are facing population decline according to the 2020 U.S. Census report.

The delegation wants to provide federal funds to revitalize rural areas. They disagree, however, on a few partisan points of a mostly bipartisan issue.

Iowa’s population rose 4.7 percent overall since the 2010 Census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But Iowa’s 38 rural counties saw a net population loss since the 2010 census.

Rural population decline has become a campaign issue in several key midterm races around Iowa, including the race for U.S. Senate and Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Dem challengers critique Iowa objections to bipartisan infrastructure

State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, the candidate for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, said in a written statement to The Daily Iowan her opponent and the Republican incumbent Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, isn’t working for rural Iowans.

“She has voted against just about every piece of legislation that will help small towns and rural communities,” Bohannan wrote. “She voted against a bipartisan infrastructure bill that would repair and rebuild our roads and bridges.”

Miller-Meeks voted against the INVEST in America Act in 2021, which is more commonly referred to as the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Among other Iowa legislators who voted no for the bill were Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, voted in favor for the bill.

However, Miller-Meeks co-sponsored the Enhancing Credit Opportunities in Rural America Act with Feenstra in 2021. It introduces programs that would make it easier for rural farmers to access credit. The bill was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives and referred to the Ways and Means committee, where it currently sits.

Miller-Meeks wrote in a statement to the DI that she will continue working for rural Iowans if reelected to Congress in November.

“Rural communities are home to so many Iowans, and it’s crucial these areas receive the same level of support as urban areas,” Miller-Meeks wrote. “Throughout my time in Congress, I have fought to protect rural areas by securing funding for community projects and co-sponsoring legislation to ease outlandish regulations on farmers and small business owners.”

RELATED: Iowa Democrats say Republicans fighting “culture wars” instead of focusing on improving the state

Bohannan wrote she will focus on serving rural Iowans by increasing health care access in rural communities, supporting rural schools, and bringing jobs back to small towns.

“I would also advocate to level the playing field for small businesses so they can compete with large corporations and bring good-paying manufacturing jobs back to our small towns,” she wrote.

U.S. Senate candidates agree on making rural Iowa a priority

Grassley, a longtime incumbent in Iowa’s delegation, has been a proponent of legislation that looks to help rural America.

Grassley, who sits on the agriculture committee in the Senate, met with rural farmers as part of his 99-county tour to hear their input on the 2023 farm bill that is up for reauthorization.

“By allowing farmers to have a seat at the table to discuss issues they care about I can learn more about their priorities and bring their input to the Farm Bill discussions in D.C.,” Grassley said in a news release on Sept. 1. “As a family farmer and strong advocate for agriculture, I know the hard work that farmers and producers do every day to feed and fuel our country and world.”

Grassley supported the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is already funding rural Iowa. The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System — which is responsible for providing rural water to northwest Iowa communities like Rock Rapids, Hull, and Sioux Center — received $75.5 million from the infrastructure bill.

“Iowans rely on sound infrastructure to move our ag products and manufactured goods as well as to connect with family, business partners, and critical service providers,” Grassley said. “But like much of the country, Iowa’s aging infrastructure risks slowing economic growth and eroding daily comfort and convenience. This bipartisan bill fixes potholes, rebuilds bridges, upgrades water systems, and brings broadband to rural corners of our state. Investing in Iowa’s infrastructure will pay dividends for decades to come.”

Grassley and Ernst recently introduced the Rural Prosperity Act, which would add the Office of Rural Prosperity to the White House’s operations to coordinate federal programs to support rural communities.

“While my office always stands ready to assist however we can, the Rural Prosperity Act will help Iowans identify and utilize relevant programs to overcome any challenges they’re facing,” Grassley said in news release.

The bill recently passed out of the Senate agriculture committee with bipartisan support from committee members.

Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Admiral Michael Franken said at a campaign event in early September that rural Iowa isn’t where it needs to be.

“Aspects in rural Iowa are not what we wanted them to be economically. And I’m sorry that the truth hurts so much. You have to identify the problem before you proceed to a solution,” Franken said. “I got ideas on how to re-sculpt things, how to recraft them. I see Iowa having the cheapest electrical grid, most redundant, most sustainable, and a net negative carbon footprint.”

In a campaign commercial directed at Franken, Grassley criticized Franken for saying that rural Iowa is “depressing.” Franken said the quote was taken out of context and criticized.

The Franken campaign didn’t respond when contacted for further comment on this issue.

Key issues like rural hospital access, economic development, and helping small towns and farmers are the key points Iowa’s federal delegation is looking to address as the Nov. 8 midterm approaches.

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