Statewide Iowa — People with low incomes in rural areas of Iowa are eligible for a home loan at a favorable rate, directly from the USDA.

We talked with USDA Rural Development State Director Theresa Greenfield about the USDA Direct Home Loan programs. She breaks it down for us.

Greenfield tells us that the loans that they offer cover the entire cost of the home. She says they can also help low-income individuals make repairs to their homes.

Greenfield clarifies that just because the word “rural” is in the name, it doesn’t mean that the home has to be out in the country. She says homes in communities with fewer than 20,000 people are eligible.

That phone number again is 515-284-4444, and you can find out more by clicking here.

January 28, 2022 - 2:04 pm - Posted in News

 

Northwest Iowa — January is ending on a warm note. National Weather Service meteorologist, Ashley Bury, says the relief is coming from the south.

Burry says temperatures could be well about freezing in some parts of the state.

The warm conditions will continue into the early part of next week.

She says things aren’t usually this warm.

Bury says the warmer temps will lead to more melting — and that melt will freeze again overnight.

There have been times when temperatures were below zero in the last week, including some days with wind chills in the double-digits below zero.

January 28, 2022 - 11:44 am - Posted in News

Des Moines, Iowa — There’s another effort in the legislature to make it illegal for motorists to use hand held smart phones for any purpose while driving.

A law passed in 2017 made texting while driving illegal, but drivers are still allowed to hold their phone to make calls or check navigation apps. Police say it’s hard to tell exactly what a driver with a cell phone in their hand is doing and Sarah Jennings of the Iowa Department of Public Safety says the current law is unenforceable.

Matthew McKinney, a lobbyist for Nationwide Mutual Insurance, notes 25 other states have laws requiring motorists to use hands-free technology while driving.

Major Mark Stein of the Iowa State Patrol says last year there were 373 crashes in Iowa where the driver was distracted by an electronic device.

A House committee and a Senate subcommittee have approved bills to ban handheld cell phone use while driving in Iowa. A third bill that’s cleared another panel would declare school zones and road construction zones as areas where motorists are not allowed to handle a phone while driving. That bill is described as plan B, in case the legislature again balks at passing a statewide ban on driving with a cell phone in hand.

January 28, 2022 - 11:33 am - Posted in News

 

Statewide Iowa — House Republicans have released a tax plan that uses the governor’s outline for lowering the state income tax to a single rate of four percent and making retirement income tax exempt.

That’s House Speaker Pat Grassley. He expects the plan to be debated in the House soon, but he’s not setting a date.

The House GOP plan does not include a cut in the corporate tax rate as Governor Reynolds and Republicans in the Senate have proposed. Grassley says changing state tax policy toward corporations including a review of tax breaks may be a separate conversation later.

The state’s Taxpayer Relief Fund has more than a billion dollars today and is expected to top two billion by this summer, as state tax collections soar past expectations. The governor’s tax plan keeps all that money in reserve. Grassley says the House GOP plan withdraws half of it to support their tax cuts and leaves the other half in the account.

Senate Republicans aim to reduce the state income tax rate to three-point-six percent by 2027 and their bill includes a mechanism that ultimately could wind the rate down to zero. Grassley says after analyzing financial date over and over, the House GOP is comfortable following the governor’s lead.

Democrats say a flat tax will wind up causing some Iowans to pay more, while dramatically reducing the amount of income tax the wealthiest Iowans pay. House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst says a flat tax is not a fair tax.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls says Democrats are waiting for an in depth financial analysis of the plan.

Democrats in the legislature have indicated they intend to release their own tax proposal. Republicans hold 92 of the 150 seats in the legislature, giving the GOP super majorities in both the House and Senate.

January 28, 2022 - 11:04 am - Posted in News

Sioux Center, Iowa — Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and multiple northwest Iowa state legislators, along with a representative of Congressman Randy Feenstra were in Sioux Center Friday morning to make an announcement affecting the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System.

In an event held at the Sioux Center waterworks, the governor announced $38 million dollars in grants through Iowa’s Water Infrastructure Fund to support three water quality and infrastructure projects across the state, including Lewis & Clark.

The governor says the grant demonstrates the State’s commitment to the project.

Lewis & Clark Executive Director Troy Larson says the $12-million grant will help fund the L&C expansion project.

Sheldon Public Works Director Todd Uhl is also a member of the L&C Executive Committee, and he told the audience that L&C will allow Sheldon to continue to prosper.

In addition to the grant to Lewis & Clark, the governor announced an $11-million grant for a project in Dyersville, along with a $15-million award to a project in Des Moines.

In December, Gov. Reynolds announced a historic $100-million investment in water infrastructure and water quality efforts for the State of Iowa aimed at reducing excess nutrients, improving public health, promoting reuse of water and wastewater, and providing significant economic benefits to communities and the state. The grants announced Friday are a part of that investment.

January 27, 2022 - 4:17 pm - Posted in News

Sioux Center, Iowa — The last time it was held in person, it was called STEM Fest, with “STEM” standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It was held only virtually in 2021 due to COVID, but now it’s back, with an addition.

Beth Bunkers with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach tells us they’ve added “art” to the mix, turning “STEM” into “STEAM.” But she also notes — especially in our rural state, the “A” could also stand for “agriculture.” So the 2022 STEAM Fest will be held at Dordt University in Sioux Center on February 12th for students in the fourth through the eighth grades. She tells us about it.

Bunkers says there are several different sessions that make up the different parts of the color tracks.

She gives us some other examples.

She tells us that about ten people are allowed per color track. Bunkers says that obviously not everyone will get to do every session, but everyone will learn and should have a great time.

Click here for more information and to register your child. She says they’d love to have your child in their 4-H program, but they don’t have to be in 4-H to participate in STEAM Fest.

Des Moines, Iowa — A move to get rid of the state law that forbids schools from starting the fall term before August 23rd has stalled in the Iowa House. The tourism industry objects, arguing families quit traveling and they lose student employees if school starts earlier in August.

Craig Patterson is a lobbyist for Okoboji Tourism.

Representative Thomas Moore, a Republican, is a retired teacher and coach from Griswold.

Moore is chairman of the subcommittee that discussed getting rid of the mandatory school start date. He announced at the end of a hearing that the bill would not advance. Margatet Buckton is a lobbyist for the Urban Education Network, representing 22 school districts where nearly one in every four students are enrolled. She says having less time away from school avoids learning loss.

In 2015, former Governor Terry Branstad criticized schools for starting before the State Fair was over — and he signed a law that has forbidden all public and private schools from starting before August 23rd. The mandatory starting date law does not apply to districts that have year-round school.

Statewide Iowa — Iowa Senate Republicans have released a tax plan to lower the state income tax to three-point-six percent within five years.

Governor Reynolds has proposed a four percent rate within four years. A mechanism in the bill could eventually eliminate personal income taxes altogether. Senate GOP Leader Jack Whitver.

The Senate GOP bill includes Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to eliminate taxes on retirement income and provides a tax break for retired farmers. Whitver of Ankeny says when fully implemented, the plan will reduce state income taxes by two billion dollars.

The plan cuts the corporate income tax rate along with changes to reduce tax credits and exemptions for businesses by 140 million dollars. Whitver says it’s an attempt to reform how corporations are taxed.

The plan includes a maneuver that reclassifies local option sales taxes as a statewide tax. Whitver says the move would let lawmakers put other state funds in the voter-approved  account voters approved in 2010 to pay for water quality and outdoor recreation projects.

House Republicans plan to release their own tax plan soon and promise it will not raise taxes for any Iowan. The Senate’s Democratic leader says the plan Republicans in the Senate have released will result in higher taxes overall and cuts to state services.

January 27, 2022 - 11:29 am - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — Iowa Secretary of State, Paul Pate, is trying to recruit more people to work at the polls in the state’s 99 counties during election nights.

 

He says poll workers get paid and the training is not difficult.

Pate says you can sign up at pollworker.iowa.gov.

The primary elections are June 7th and the general elections are on November 8th.

January 26, 2022 - 3:51 pm - Posted in News

Rock Rapids, Iowa — Health Services of Lyon County — the county health department — says four free COVID rapid antigen at-home test kits for each household are available from the federal government.

We talked to Public Health Administrator Melissa Stillson. She tells us about it.

Stillson says she’s happy to pass along the information they received, but the four free tests have nothing to do with the county health departments or the Iowa Department of Public Health. She says public health departments do provide COVID-19 tests, but they are a little different.

Just to clarify, the free test kits from the federal government ARE rapid tests, but the ones provided by public health are NOT, and have to be sent away.

We asked her how to know if you should take a COVID test.

Stillson says it’s hard to know if your symptoms are cold or flu symptoms or COVID, but generally, COVID symptoms are more severe. For instance, the body aches are more intense, and there is often shortness of breath along with the other respiratory symptoms, plus exhaustion. She reminds people that they can always call the public health department in their county or their medical provider’s office and they can help guide them to the appropriate steps to take.

She says that’s also the case if you take a home test that comes back positive. They’d like you to call in, because there have been several changes in the guidance that they follow from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC. Quarantine and isolation times are shorter, for one thing. She says with the ongoing change, there can be a lot of confusion, and they can help you wade through it all.

Stillson also took the opportunity to remind you, that if you feel sick, stay home.

Again, that address for free COVID tests mailed to your home is covidtests.gov.

For your convenience, here are the phone numbers for the public health departments in our area:
O’Brien County Public Health (712) 957-0105
Sioux County Public Health (known as Community Health Partners) (712) 737-2971
Lyon County Public Health (known as Health Services of Lyon County) (712) 472-8200
Osceola County Public Health (known as Osceola Community Health Services) (712) 754-4611