GEORGE—U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) plans to support lowering government enhancement of unemployment benefits to $200 per week by the end of the year.
“We want to end this whole thing of federal enhancement of state unemployment,” Grassley said to employees of Sudenga Industries Inc. northeast George during a question-and-answer session held Wednesday.
Grassley said approving $600-per-week subsidy in April’s stimulus was the speediest response and that any future aid should be scaled back to incentivize employment and account for regional differences in cost of living.
The initial $600-a-week subsidy included in April’s stimulus package expired in July. An executive order from President Donald Trump extended the subsidy in some states, but lowered it to $300 per week.
Grassley said a second stimulus package is being held up by disagreement over future enhancement of unemployment benefits. Senate Democrats have pushed for unemployment benefits to be extended without lowering them from $600 per week.
Iowa’s senior U.S. senator is serving in his seventh term and was in N’West Iowa as part of his annual tour of all 99 Iowa counties. There were a few alternations to crowd size and spacing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Grassley’s visit to Sudenga was part of his stop in Lyon County. He visited Osceola, O’Brien, Sioux and Plymouth counties the same day.
Before his Q&A with Sudenga employees, Grassley toured a manufacturing building on Sudenga’s 40-acre campus north of George.
The company designs and manufactures grain and material handling equipment for farmers and agricultural businesses, exporting several of their products to China. Engineers raised questions about when they can expect to see an end to trade conflicts with China, which have depressed agricultural markets.
Grassley said that, although COVID-19 has impacted China’s supply chain and economy, he thinks they will meet their commitments to purchase $80 billion in U.S. agricultural goods in the next two years. The commitment is part of the first phase of trade agreement signed in January.
“Right now they need a lot of that,” Grassley said.
Although China has already fallen behind, Grassley said he had spoken with negotiators who had “good faith confidence that China was going to meet their goal.”
In further support of agribusiness, Grassley voiced opposition to retroactive small-refinery exemptions, which could hurt the ethanol industry by reducing demand.
“It’s stupid to think that people in 2020, these small refineries, can go back to 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and say, you know, we suffered at that particular time so we have waivers. It just doesn’t make sense,” Grassley said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for issuing these waivers, has 98 pending requests for small-refinery exemptions.
During the Q&A, Sudenga’s vice president Chuck Sjogren thanked Grassley for his support of the Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative providing loans as direct incentives to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll during COVID-19.
“It makes a huge difference for us,” Sjogren said. “As an essential manufacturer, we’ve been battling through this.”
Sudenga is the second-largest employer in Lyon County, with 230 employees.
Grassley also addressed concerns about broadband access in rural areas, where some Iowa residents have slow connections or no access at all.
He said COVID-19 and the recent shift to virtual platforms have highlighted the importance of expanding broadband access.
“There’s nothing really good comes out of a virus like we’re going through, but it’s brought up the need for bigger broadband from two standpoints, one because of distance learning and the other because of telehealth.”
Grassley said he has noted increasing bipartisan interest to “do more about broadband,” but said there is not enough time left in this year’s legislative session to pass an infrastructure bill addressing the issue.