Hinson makes food pantry stop

Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) visits with South Tama Food Pantry volunteer Joe Imhoff at the pantry facility in Tama on Feb. 8. Earlier in the day, Hinson toured a portion of the Marshalltown Community College campus. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) made a stop at the South Tama Food Pantry in Tama Feb. 8. The Tama stop was one among a number of visits Hinson was making during an in-district work week. Hinson along with two food pantry volunteers toured the facility and sat for a brief discussion about the food pantry’s services and how the past year has gone given the unique challenges of the pandemic and the derecho storm.

Hinson spoke about some of the challenges and issues that have faced communities in her congressional district this past year, and was ultimately optimistic when considering the future of a region that has experienced a major natural disaster and is still experiencing a pandemic.

“People are resilient and people figure out how to recover,” Hinson said. “You’ve got organizations like this food pantry to help bridge the gap for people who need it. Ultimately, I’m optimistic in the people of Iowa that they’ll come back from this, because that’s what we always do. Obviously there are things we can do to help, that’s why the pandemic relief packages are important to be talking about. That’s what will save the buildings that are still here and the people that are still in business. It will give them the resources to rebuild.”

The South Tama Food Pantry has been serving the southern Tama County region for more than 15 years and is a vital support system for individuals and families experiencing food insecurity. The pantry in downtown Tama opens weekly from Tuesday to Thursday over the midday hours. A wide variety of food staples are available along with some household items.

Over the past five years the total pounds of food distributed per year has tripled, going from under 50,000 pounds in 2015 to 146,723 pounds distributed in 2020.

On average the South Tama Food Pantry serves between 130 and 150 families per month. In 2020 the pantry served 5,539 individuals including 3,233 adults and 2,306 children. Just over half of the food received is donated with the other half being purchased through the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

The pantry currently has approximately 45 volunteers working one 4 hour shift per month.

“I want to continue to support food banks and food pantries because I think what they do is so important,” Hinson said. “You can’t learn if you’re hungry. You can’t do well at your job if you’re hungry. Everybody’s got to eat.”

The South Tama Food Pantry, on the corner of W. 3rd Street and McClellan Street in Tama, is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hinson in D.C.

Early in her first term as a member of the U.S. House, Hinson said she has made efforts to work with the entire Iowa Congressional delegation to amplify Iowa’s voice in Washington.

“We have to be out there working together as much as possible so that we can secure stuff for our state,” Hinson said. “When it comes to broadband investment, that’s something I think the entire Iowa delegation, Republicans and Democrats, will be able to work together on. Rural vaccine distribution is one thing we’re already working together on.”

Hinson also said she and her colleagues are working to establish designated federal disaster classification for the term derecho. She said as it stands currently, FEMA does not classify derecho events in the same way they do with tornadoes and hurricanes. She hopes better establishing the derecho event would streamline the federal disaster response whenever the next derecho occurs.

One of Hinson’s first legislative actions after taking office in January was to introduce a bill called the Reopen Schools Act.

The proposed legislation sought to use the $54 billion in pandemic relief funds allocated for schools as leverage to move school districts toward reopening their buildings.

The Reopen Schools Act would withhold relief dollars to school districts who were not reopened with at least 50% in-person capacity. Ultimately the bill, which was introduced to the House in early February, was voted down with votes going straight across party lines.

In Iowa, school districts are already preparing to return to full in-person learning following a law that was quickly taken up and passed by the Iowa legislature and signed by Gov. Reynolds on Jan. 29 that requires all school districts to offer a 100% in-person learning option by Feb. 15.

The move to bring more students back into their school buildings comes at a time when the COVID-19 positivity and hospitalization rates have dipped, though in many cases not below the rate that was being experienced at the beginning of the school year when hybrid learning options were made available.

Vaccine availability and distribution has also been dramatically low in Iowa, as the Center for Disease Control reports Iowa in the bottom five states in the U.S. by vaccine doses administered.

“I am frustrated as well by the vaccine (rollout),” Hinson said. “We need more of it in Iowa, and I know that. We’ve been asking the Biden administration to increase our allocation to the state. Our office and staff have been in touch with them several times a week. That’s one thing I’m working with Rep. Axne on as well.”

As many Iowa businesses are still navigating the uncertain waters of the pandemic and possibly still derecho recovery, workforce housing remains an issue for many rural employers and communities.

“That’s a big problem and a challenge for a lot of rural Iowa, Hinson said. “You have this great opportunity to grow and expand but you can’t because you can’t get the workforce there.”

Hinson said she’s interested in exploring targeted housing tax credits that could entice developers to consider rural communities for future housing development.

Hinson also said she’s heard from constituents regarding a $15 minimum wage increase that has reemerged in the national conversation as Congress works through COVID-19 relief legislation.

“There would be a lot of jobs that would go away if that mandate comes in, Hinson said. “I’m not opposed to raising the minimum wage, I think we need to look at what that scale needs to be. But a $15 mandate right now would kill rural Iowa. That’s why I said I would not vote for a $15 minimum wage because everybody on the ground is telling me that would force them to close. You pile that on top of a pandemic, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Hinson closed her visit to Tama by encouraging the volunteers in attendance to spread the word about her office’s services for residents that may need assistance with a federal agency. Resident services information can be found online at https://hinson.house.gov/services or by calling Cedar Rapids district office at (319) 364-2288.