- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Some advocates for programs that help low-income people are expressing puzzlement over Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to veto spending from an infrastructure fund, saying he preferred the money go directly to individuals.

When he used his line-item veto authority earlier this month to cut $1.8 million in spending approved by the Iowa Legislature, Branstad wrote that he would prefer state funds “be directed to the low-income individuals the agencies serve and not to the agencies’ facilities.”

However, the proposed spending came from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, which by state law can only be used for building renovation, major repairs, utilities and site development, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

“This fund is set up for infrastructure. This fund is not set up for individuals,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the infrastructure fund. “You can’t have it both ways. I understand in a tight budget year that decisions are made, but I was disappointed. I think these funds would help more people in need in all corners of the state.”

The money was intended for repairs to 17 buildings overseen by the Iowa Community Action Association. The organization serves nearly 300,000 low-income Iowans across all 99 counties with programs aimed at providing early childhood education, home energy assistance and family nutrition.

Officials said they didn’t understand Branstad’s reasoning in vetoing the money, which now remains unspent in the Rebuild Iowa fund

“I found the governor’s rationale a little hard to understand since it is the infrastructure fund, and you would think it would only be used for infrastructure,” said Jean Logan, the director for Community Action Agency of Siouxland, which serves 16,000 people in Woodbury County.

And Sharon Ford, director for Burlington-based Community Action of Southeast Iowa, noted, “the title of this whole thing is infrastructure, so our understanding was that it was for infrastructure and not for services.”

When asked why the governor suggested spending infrastructure money on programs or how that would be allowed, Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes provided a response that largely repeated the veto statement. Hammes declined to answer further questions.

Officials with the Iowa Community Action Association said some of their buildings are in desperate need of repairs. Projects that had been planned included addressing flood damage, collapsing roofs and asbestos growth.

“We can do a better job serving Iowans if we have better facilities,” said Lana Shope, the association’s executive director. “We needed it in order to improve our services to individuals and families trying to improve their lives.”

Ford said her agency planned to use the funding for a new building that would provide privacy to clients applying for low-income assistance and a more adequate environment for early childhood education programs, which are partially operated out of a mobile unit.

The agency serves more than 14,000 people in Henry, Des Moines, Louisa and Lee counties.

“There’s not enough room there for all of our children,” Ford said. “We really, really needed those funds.”

Logan said the Woodbury County building is damaged beyond repair with crumbling walls and a basement that is now closed due to mold growth.

In seeking money from lawmakers, Shope said she shared a seven-page summary of infrastructure requests with each lawmaker on the budget subcommittee and asked agency staff to reach out to the governor via his website about building needs.

Although the effort seemed to initially pay off, Branstad’s veto left them feeling disappointed and unsure how to deal with their building problems.

“We’ll just keep getting by on what we have,” Shope said. “I don’t know what we’ll do next year.”

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