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Iowa Farm Bureau unveils health care plans

Officials with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation announced plans Wednesday to begin taking applications next month from members who want to enroll in a health benefit plan option — one not subject to federal regulation or state oversight — because they don’t have access to employer-sponsored health insurance and no longer can afford independent insurance coverage.

According to the company, the Farm Bureau Health Plan will be administered by Wellmark Administrators Inc., which includes all hospitals and 97 percent of the physicians in Iowa. The Farm Bureau Health Plan will offer three different plan designs, including two traditional plans with copays, coinsurance and deductibles, while the third plan is a high-deductible health plan that offers members the opportunity to fund a Health Savings Account. No rate information was included in the initial announcement, which company spokeswoman Laurie Johns said would vary based on individual needs via coverage plans sold through authorized agents.

All three plans will provide comprehensive coverage including maternity, mental health and substance abuse, prescription drugs and no-cost preventive benefits to members — although there are some exclusions. To be eligible, prospective clients seeking coverage when the application period begins Nov. 1 must be an Iowa Farm Bureau member living in the state and not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or a health plan through their employer.

The health benefit plan concept was made possible through legislation passed last session by the GOP-led Iowa Legislature and signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, enabling the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to provide an underwritten health benefit plan to its members. Farm Bureau Health Benefit Plan LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, will provide the plans.

Senate File 2349 — which sponsors say was in response to the “collapse” of the Affordable Care Act exchange market in Iowa — was designed to provide an alternative by allowing health benefit plans created by multiple employers or the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to offer access to affordable health care for up to 26,000 uninsured Iowans.

Backers called the approach a “test model” for thousands of Iowans facing skyrocketing individual health premiums that don’t qualify for ACA subsidies, but critics worried the sale of less-regulated health care plans might create a false hope for Iowans who sign up for the benefits only to find out the plan will not cover many of the major health problems addressed by conventional insurance.

Farm Bureau officials believe their health plan will appeal to Iowans who don’t qualify for tax credits or subsidies under the ACA. For those individuals, the company said in a news release it expects rates generally will be lower than comparable ACA plans.

The plan designs will look similar to current ACA compliant plans in the market, with three primary exceptions, according to the Farm Bureau. Applicants must pass underwriting to qualify for enrollment and, because they are underwritten, the plans will be available for purchase throughout the year rather than only during specific enrollment periods. Also, the plans will have a $3 million lifetime benefit maximum per covered individual.

“According to our membership survey, health care coverage is the number one concern facing our members,” said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Hill. “Although this may not be a solution for all, the Farm Bureau Health Plan may be an option for thousands who need an affordable plan that provides them comprehensive, renewable health coverage.”

At the time of the bill signing last April, Hill said the legislation would not diminish or impact Iowans receiving ACA-subsidized coverage, but it would provide an opportunity to create coverage for Iowans who don’t qualify for the ACA subsidy or have been forced out of the market by exorbitant premiums.

The plans will not comply with federal Affordable Care Act rules and will not be under the regulation of the Iowa Insurance Commissioner.

More plan details are available at IowaFBHealthPlan.com.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

Sen. Mitch McConnell weighing his next move on the timing of Kavanaugh vote

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faces a key deadline Wednesday to start the clock on a vote to confirm embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as early as Saturday.

But it remains unclear whether he will.

Under Senate rules, McConnell would have to act by Wednesday evening to set up a procedural vote on Kavanaugh for Friday, which would then allow for a final vote on the confirmation Saturday.

The Kentucky Republican’s decision is complicated. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, with the backing of fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, doesn’t want to start that clock until the FBI files its report on sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

And McConnell needs to make sure he has the votes of at least two of those three, assuming all Senate Democrats oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. That leaves little wiggle room.

McConnell is clearly frustrated by the delays and has promised to have a vote this week.

On the other hand, once McConnell starts the clock on confirmation votes, it could be hard to stop them, even if he doesn’t have the votes he needs for approval.

The temperature around the vote has gone up dramatically in the past 24 hours, with President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening mocking Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford at a campaign rally. He mimicked her dramatic testimony last week, emphasizing some of the details she could not remember and suggesting she had more than the one beer she recalled having.

“What neighborhood was it in? ‘I don’t know.’ Where’s the house? ‘I don’t know. Upstairs. Downstairs. I don’t know. But I had one beer, that’s the only thing I remember,’” Trump said, as the Mississippi audience laughed and applauded.

Ford says Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a 1982 party. He denied the allegation.

All three undecided Republicans condemned Trump’s remarks. The White House insisted Trump was merely restating facts.

Asked if Trump was worried that his comments would jeopardize votes from swing Republican senators, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said no.

“I don’t think so. The president is very confident in his nominee, as he’s stated time and time again, and we expect the Senate to vote, and we hope they do that soon,” she said.

Mexican president-elect, Trump agree boosting economic development in Mexico and Central America can stem illegal migration

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he and U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by telephone on Wednesday about boosting economic development in Mexico and Central America in order to stem illegal migration.

The phone call came after Mexico, the United States and Canada agreed on a new trilateral trade deal late Sunday, which Lopez Obrador hailed as a “good accord” that would create economic certainty and encourage investment.

The two leaders also discussed “a next step,” agreeing on investment between Mexico, Canada and the United States to aid development in Central America and Mexico to tackle “the migration phenomenon,” said Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1.

“He looks favorably on it,” the leftist Lopez Obrador told reporters at the Mexico City airport, referring to Trump.

The Mexican president added that representatives of his incoming government will travel to the United States in the next few days, including foreign minister-designate Marcelo Ebrard.

It was a “great call,” Trump tweeted, with Lopez Obrador, adding that “we will work well together!”

Lopez Obrador said a plan was being put together for development projects across the country. They ranged from a new oil refinery to a train connecting parts of southern and eastern Mexico that his team has discussed.

The projects belonged to a “general development plan” that would require more than $30 billion in total investments, he said. It was not clear how much would be divided between public and private investors, or between countries.

Lopez Obrador, who was elected in July, said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will attend his inauguration, not Trump.

Before the election, Lopez Obrador said he wanted to reach a deal with Trump to prioritize development in Mexico’s poorer south and in Central America to stem illegal immigration, which has caused tensions between Washington and Mexico.

Trump provoked widespread outrage in Mexico when he described Mexican migrants as rapists and drug-runners during his own election campaign. He also pledged to build a southern border wall to stop migrants, saying Mexico would pay for it.

Lopez Obrador has shied away from addressing the wall to avoid clashing with Trump. However, he said in the run-up to the Mexican election that U.S. money would be better spent on aiding development south of the border than on a wall.

(Reporting by Mexico City Newsroom; Editing by Dave Graham and Jeffrey Benkoe)

South Korea reveals plan to break stalemate in US-North Korea talks

South Korea is proposing that the United States hold off on a demand for an inventory of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and accept the verified closure of a key North Korean nuclear facility as a next step in the negotiations, Seoul’s top diplomat said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The plan is designed to break the impasse between North Korea and the United States as President Trump comes under mounting pressure to demonstrate progress on the denuclearization talks. It will be one of the options available to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he arrives in North Korea on Sunday to restart negotiations.

In exchange for the verified dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the United States would declare an end to the Korean War, a key demand of Pyongyang that U.S. officials have been reluctant to make absent a major concession by North Korea.

“What North Korea has indicated is they will permanently dismantle their nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, which is a very big part of their nuclear program,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said during a discussion at the South Korean mission to the United Nations. “If they do that in return for America’s corresponding measures, such as the end-of-war declaration, I think that’s a huge step forward for denuclearization.”

Sustained fighting in the Korean War ended with a truce in 1953, but a formal peace treaty has never been signed. In recent weeks, North Korea has demanded almost daily that the United States sign an end-of-war declaration.

U.S. negotiators have tried to get North Korea to provide a list of nuclear facilities and weapons they want dismantled but failed to secure an agreement even after Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore and three trips to North Korea by Pompeo.

On Tuesday, North Korea’s state-run broadcaster again called the demands for a nuclear inventory “rubbish.”

Kang said demanding a list at the outset risks bogging down the negotiations in a subsequent dispute over verification. As an example, she cited the deterioration of negotiations between North Korea and the George W. Bush administration after Pyongyang handed over thousands of pages of documents on its main plutonium-related facilities in 2008.

“The past experience shows that the list and the verification about the list takes a lot of back and forth, and I think the last time things broke down precisely as we were working out a detailed protocol on verification after we had gotten the list . . . We want to take a different approach” she said.

Stressing the importance of stopping the further production of nuclear materials at the Yongbyon facility, she added: “We will have to see an inventory at some point, but that some point can be reached more expeditiously by action and corresponding measures that give the two sides sufficient trust.”

Whether Seoul can persuade Washington to take up the proposed bargain remains to be seen. The State Department declined to comment on its willingness to delay demands for an inventory or declare an end to the Korean War.

Hawks inside the Trump administration, in particular national security adviser John Bolton, remain skeptical of signing such a declaration out of fear that it will give North Korea and China justification to demand the removal of the 28,500 U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, people close to Bolton said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations.

Kang downplayed concerns about the declaration, emphasizing that it would be a purely “political” document and “not a legally binding treaty.”

Trump, according to diplomats familiar with the negotiations, is open to signing the declaration and may not be bothered by ensuing demands about U.S. forces given his long-standing complaint that the United States pays far too much to station troops in East Asia.

Analysts briefed on South Korea’s proposal offered mixed assessments.

“If the Yongbyon shutdown proves to be the first bite of the apple, it might be an OK starting point, but if it proves to be the only bite of the apple, it will be deeply unsatisfying - and totally reversible,” said Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Duyeon Kim, a Korea expert with the Center for a New American Security, said the closure of Yongbyon would be a “welcome” and “tangible” step but noted that North Korea would still be able to expand its nuclear arsenal and fissile material production at covert facilities elsewhere in the country.

“It’s unrealistic to expect a comprehensive, completely accurate list from the get-go, but the administration should still insist that Pyongyang at least disclose all fuel-cycle-related facilities anywhere in the country,” she said.

On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo would arrive in North Korea on Sunday but gave few details about the status of the negotiations. “Obviously these conversations are going in the right direction and we feel confident enough to hop on a plane to head there to continue the conversations,” she said.

The U.S. outlook on the negotiations has been difficult to surmise as Trump hails major accomplishments going on behind closed doors, while Pyongyang falls short of key U.S. demands, including providing its understanding of denuclearization and the number of weapons and amount of bomb fuel it has.

“If you saw what’s going on behind the scenes, I think you’d be very impressed,” Trump said last week. “I’ve received two letters from Chairman Kim . . . They’re letters that are magnificent in the sense of his feeling for wanting to get this done.”

North Korea has already signaled that it may drive a hard bargain during Pompeo’s fourth visit. Despite calling for the end-of-war declaration, the Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that the document “can never be a bargaining chip for getting the DPRK denuclearized” and that the United States must ease economic sanctions before North Korea takes steps.

“If the U.S. doesn’t want the end of war, the DPRK will also not particularly hope for it,” the news agency said in a commentary.

The North has also given Pompeo’s new special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, the cold shoulder, said U.S. officials, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks. Last month, Pompeo publicly invited Pyongyang to meet with Biegun in Vienna at the “earliest opportunity,” but the request went unanswered and the North has yet to name a counterpart for Biegun, they said.

Kang, South Korea’s first female foreign minister, is trying to build momentum behind the U.S.-North Korea talks despite international skepticism that Kim is willing to surrender his nuclear arsenal.

In the process, she and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have fended off allegations of naivete from Japanese and American counterparts who say their belief in dialogue blinds them to Kim’s deceptive nature.

Kang said her government has no illusions about the nature of the Kim dynasty, a fact that guides her thinking on negotiating tactics.

“We know North Korea better than any party in this process,” she said. “We are as keen and perhaps as committed as anybody on getting to complete denuclearization . . . Naivete is certainly not something that would characterize my government’s approach to North Korea.”

Moon, a former human rights lawyer, and Kang, a former U.N. deputy high commissioner for human rights, have both come under pressure to underscore human rights violations in North Korea, which is accused of incarcerating tens of thousands of citizens in labor camps dedicated to political crimes among many other abuses.

Kang said Seoul supports efforts by the international community to advance human rights in North Korea but acknowledged that denuclearization is the most paramount concern for her country.

“The North Korean human rights situation is a global issue, and we are part of the global discussions,” she said. “There are times to raise these issues. Certainly not at this time, when we very much need to move forward on the denuclearization issue.”

Trump, whose advisers initially sought a quick deal with North Korea, told reporters last week he’s in no “rush.”

Kang said the remarks reflect the complexity of the negotiations. “I think there is a lot more understanding and appreciation of the difficulty of the issue,” she said. “This is a very advanced program, so you can’t just dismantle it or do away with it in a matter of a short period.”

Bruce Teague defeats Ann Freerks for Iowa City Council seat

IOWA CITY — Bruce Teague, a business owner and longtime Iowa City resident, has won a seat on the Iowa City Council.

In Tuesday’s special election, Teague, 42, who campaigned as an openly gay black man, defeated Ann Freerks, 51, a University of Iowa employee with almost two decades on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

His term will last through 2021.

“I honestly think that it was who I am, my personal story, I think that resonated with Iowa Citians,” Teague said. “Someone that isn’t a political person, someone that really does listen to people, and so I think that’s what they really want.”

The at-large seat became open after council member Kingsley Botchway II resigned to take a job with the Waterloo school district earlier this summer.

Unofficial results show 4,195 votes were cast, for a 9.03 percent turnout. The total was 229 more votes than were cast in the Sept. 4 primary.

In unofficial results, Teague had 2,277 votes, for 54.3 percent of the ballots cast, to Freerks’ 1,896 votes, for 45.3 percent.

Teague is the owner of Caring Hands and More, which helps clients with home health care, professional cleaning and other tasks. He said he’s also had experience in senior living facilities and hospices.

“I think that all of us in Iowa City know someone that is marginalized, someone that needs a helping hand,” he said. “That’s what I do on a daily basis.”

After Botchway’s resignation, the City Council voted in August to hold a special election rather than appoint a replacement.

The special election and primary cost about $60,000.

Candidates faced a quick campaign, with just a week to gather nominating petitions and a month to campaign before the primary, because of the “blackout” period before and after the Nov. 6 general election.

The special primary was needed to narrow a field of five candidates to two for Tuesday’s special election.

Pending the official canvass of votes Oct. 9, Teague will join six others on the City Council: Mayor Jim Throgmorton and council members Rockne Cole, Susan Mims, Mazahir Salih, Pauline Taylor and John Thomas.

Iowa City Council members are paid $7,259.20 this fiscal year.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Amazon raises minimum wage to $15

Amazon.com said Tuesday it would raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour for U.S. employees from next month, giving in to critics of poor pay and working conditions at the world’s second-most valuable company.

The increase pushes Amazon’s lowest wage above that at Wal-Mart and Target. It is almost $3 shy of the average for a non-management worker in warehousing in the United States.

The online retailer also said it would now lobby in Washington, D.C., for an increase in the federal minimum wage and urged its competitors to follow its lead as the union-led “Fight for Fifteen” movement pushes for higher remuneration.

Amazon’s move comes when U.S. unemployment is at a near two-decade low as retailers and shippers compete for hundreds of thousands of workers for the all-important holiday shopping season.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

The pay increase, effective from next month, will benefit more than 250,000 Amazon employees in the United States as well as more than 100,000 seasonal employees who will be hired across the country this holiday season, the company said.

Amazon, which became the second company after Apple to cross $1 trillion in market value last month, currently pays around $11 per hour. Analysts said the raise would cost it $1 billion or less annually but would be offset by a recent $20 increase in the cost of its Prime memberships.

Companies scrutinize new NAFTA deal

MINNEAPOLIS — A new trade deal the United States reached over the weekend with Mexico and Canada will tamp down uncertainty for American farmers and manufacturers, though concerns remain about a broader trade war.

President Donald Trump on Monday touted the agreement’s safeguards for intellectual property and protections for workers, as well as provisions that he said will help American exporters of a wide range of agricultural products.

He said the agreement closes “loopholes” that allow car companies to assemble vehicles in Canada and Mexico and sell them in the United States duty-free.

“This landmark agreement will send cash and jobs pouring into the United States and into North America — good for Canada, good for Mexico,” Trump said.

The deal removes the prospect of reversion to pre-NAFTA barriers on the movement of food and other goods between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Such a change would have disrupted American farmers, food processors and buyers for several years as growing and buying patterns adjusted.

Cargill, the Minnetonka, Minn.-based company that has facilities in Cedar Rapids, is the one of the world’s largest agriculture processors and a leading trader, issued a cautiously optimistic statement on the new deal while noting it is examining the details.

“We strongly support the continuation of the trilateral trading bloc established 24 years ago between the United States, Mexico and Canada under NAFTA,” Cargill said.

“The appropriate measure, in our view, is whether USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada) is better than NAFTA, which has transformed North America into one of the world’s most competitive and successful trading blocs,” the company said. “At first glance, we’re encouraged with efforts to modernize some chapters that specifically affect trade in agricultural goods.”

For farmers, the big problem remains the trade war with China, which Trump made clear is not close to resolution.

Tariffs have especially driven down the prices of soybeans and pork. But some farmers remain hopeful that Trump can secure better trade deals for American business in general.

“As someone who has 20 to 25 years of production ahead of me, I may never see this level of trade negotiations in my career again. We have to get it right this time around,” Marc Arnusch, a farmer near Keenesburg, Colo., told Progressive Farmer.

Iowa’s high mark for voting ease comes with warning

Iowa ranks fifth among the states for the “cost” of voting, but the political science professor who did the research is putting an asterisk on that top-tier rating.

“Iowa is almost certainly going to drop in the ranking” because of the change in the state’s voter ID law “that will increase the cost of voting in terms of time and energy,” Scot Schraufnagel of Northern Illinois University said Tuesday.

Schraufnagel and his fellow researcher created a “Cost of Voting Index” — using what is described in the study as “the largest assemblage of state election laws” — to rank each state according to the time and effort it took to vote in each presidential election year from 1996 through 2016.

Oregon took top honors for making it easy for voters in 2016, followed by Colorado, California, North Dakota and Iowa.

Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Texas were the most inconvenient states for voting, Schraufnagel said.

Although Schraufnagel believes voter ID laws, especially those requiring a photo, will make it harder to vote, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate believes the requirement is a positive change supported by Iowans.

“I’ve said all along that I want to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat, and this study confirms those efforts have been successful,” Pate said Tuesday. “Reforms I instituted such as online voter registration and Safe at Home opened new avenues for people to register to vote.”

His Democratic challenger, Deidre DeJear, however, was less impressed.

“It’s great that we’re ranked fifth, but we’ve had some changes since 2016, so I don’t know if the ranking reflects the current reality,” she said. “I don’t even know if it’s relevant. The ranking doesn’t mean anything. The proof is not in the ranking but in the turnout.”

The new law is causing confusion, DeJear said, and Pate isn’t doing enough to educate voters.

Pate cited the Iowa Poll that found 69 percent of Iowans support the voter ID law, and 92 percent believe it won’t prevent them from voting.

“We’re one of the top states in the country for voting registration and voter participation,” he said. “Voter participation and election integrity are not mutually exclusive. They go together.”

Census and voter registration data show that about 89 percent of Iowans 18 or older are registered to vote. Turnout in 2016 was 72 percent, according to Pate’s office.

Based on his research and 20 years of studying election law, Schraufnagel believes that voter ID laws “are consequential.” He can’t say how that will affect participation in the 2018 election, “but as cost goes up, voting goes down. It’s a robust relationship.”

Voter ID laws are not the only things affecting voter participation, Schraufnagel said.

Competitive races, being a swing state, voter registration deadlines and early voting are other factors Schraufnagel looked at. Iowa has Election Day registration, but has shortened the early voting period from 40 to 29 days.

And forget about voter fraud, he said.

“Studies show voter fraud has never been widespread and is largely a figment of people’s imaginations,” Schraufnagel said. “There have been people who voted fraudulently, but the volume is so minimal that, if it has made a difference, it’s in some obscure relatively inconsequential election. Voter fraud is just not an important issue.”

For more on his research, visit https://newsroom.niu.edu/2018/09/25/new-study-scrutinizes-time-and-effort-it-takes-to-vote-in-each-state/.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Iowa City VA part of national audit of canceled diagnostic tests

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center is among nine VA hospitals nationally being audited after allegations staff canceled diagnostic tests without doctors’ orders, which a whistleblower said could cause a veteran to miss a tumor or other ailment.

“This has become an extremely dangerous situation as veterans are not receiving the diagnostic exams for treatment or follow up to prior illnesses,” said Jeff Dettbarn, a former radiology technician at the Iowa City VA.

The Iowa City allegations are part of a nationwide audit to “determine whether VHA processes radiology requests in a timely manner and appropriately managed canceled requests,” said Mike Nacincik, public affairs officer for the VA Office of Inspector General, which is conducting the review.

The audit also includes VA facilities in Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Tampa and near St. Petersburg, Fla., and Salisbury, N.C., Nacincik said. The story was first reported by USA Today.

Questions raised

Dettbarn, 50, of North Liberty, had been an X-ray technician at the Iowa City VA for more than a decade in February 2017 when he started noticing a large number of canceled orders coming across the office printer in the radiology department. Physicians are the only ones allowed to issue or cancel orders for diagnostic tests, Dettbarn said.

He asked the patient safety department about the canceled orders and filed an electronic report.

But when the orders kept coming, Dettbarn raised the issue with the VA’s compliance officer, who “gave me a song and dance,” he said. “Once again, it kept going.”

But on June 22, 2017, a patient came to the radiology department for a scan of a mass on his kidney, Dettbarn said. While the veteran had an appointment, there was no order so the patient had to wait nearly three hours for another order to be issued. Dettbarn pushed the issue with his supervisor, who eventually confirmed she’d canceled two orders for the patient, thinking they were duplicates, Dettbarn said.

He filed another electronic report on the issue. “The following Monday, they accused me of undermining authority,” he said. “They sent me to a different job.”

National concern

The Tampa Bay Times reported in July the VA had directed hospitals in January 2017 to reduce a backlog of more than 300,000 radiology exams ordered, but not performed within two months. VA officials said many of the overdue tests weren’t necessary any longer.

But doctors were supposed to sign off on the cancellations to make sure the exams, including CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and mammographies, weren’t needed, the Times reported.

Four radiology techs at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa alleged officials canceled orders without a doctor’s permission and then tried to cover it up. The technicians also are involved in a sexual harassment and intimidation lawsuit against the hospital, the Times reported.

When Dettbarn read that story, he was relieved to know other people at VA facilities knew about this problem.

“I didn’t know it was systemwide until that article in Tampa came out,” he said. “I had no idea when I started it would turn into a nationwide issue.”

Hospital response

Iowa City VA spokesman Bryan Clark said the hospital recently had a visit from the Office of the Inspector General.

“While the OIG noted an increase in cancellations, it concurred that the Iowa City (VA Health Care System) is following national guidance in scheduling practices for radiology,” Clark said.

Clark said orders were canceled because they were “obsolete, outdated, and/or duplicates, and the team did work diligently to remove these orders to improve quality and access to care in radiology.”

However, he acknowledged some exams were canceled without following policies or procedure.

“In those instances, appropriate personnel actions were taken to correct the behavior and staff reviewed the cancellations to ensure every order that required action was reviewed appropriately by a radiology provider,” he said.

He also said there was one incident in which a patient showed up for an appointment that had been canceled, but said the “staff reacted quickly to ensure the patient got the care they needed immediately.”

U.S. Senators contacted

Dettbarn, who still works for the VA but in a different position with lower pay, said he sought help from U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. Grassley’s staff never responded to him, but it’s Dettbarn’s understanding they did inquire at the hospital. Ernst’s staff got him in touch with the Office of the Inspector General, he said.

When asked about the allegations this week, Ernst, herself a veteran, told a reporter that based on what she was aware of, it wasn’t clear to her whether it was case of VA staff just not following procedure.

Grassley’s staff did not respond to The Gazette’s requests for comment Monday or Tuesday.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.

Design changes to flood control plan near Cargill, Cedar Lake advance

CEDAR RAPIDS — A week after the latest flood scare, city officials advanced design changes to a planned flood control system they say will better protect the city, its residents and some of its biggest employers, including Cargill, UnityPoint-St. Luke’s Hospital and Coe College.

At the north end of downtown, a proposed change would extend the flood barrier around Cedar Lake, providing permanent protection to an additional 86 properties, including homes and businesses along Center Point Road NE and Shaver Road NE, Coe and St. Luke’s. At the southern end of downtown, a second proposal would shift where the flood barrier crosses Otis Road SE allowing corn processing giant Cargill to continue operations in the event of severe flooding.

“It’s really a marginal cost difference — very small — and it raises the level of protection,” said Tyler Olson, a Cedar Rapids council member and chair of the flood control committee. “It’s an easy decision to make.”

Council members Susie Weinacht and Marty Hoeger concurred, and the committee of three unanimously endorsed the two design changes during a meeting on Tuesday. The proposal, which requires modifications to the 2015 flood control master plan, is expected to go to the full City Council for approval next Tuesday.

City Council member Dale Todd, who also attended the meeting and has been working on a restoration of Cedar Lake, called the plan a “win-win” for the community and businesses.

The north end section costs would increase from $43 million to $55 million but comes with a few benefits, said Rob Davis, the city’s flood control manager. First, it protects the 86 additional properties. Second, it eliminates six gates, which are seen as more costly and more prone to leaks and malfunctions. Third, it would eliminate crossing six railroad tracks.

Cedar Lake would serve as a detention basin that could be pre-emptively pumped to allow more room for water to pool during floods, he said.

By Cargill, the realignment would bend the flood control system around where Otis Road turns into the Cargill plant, keeping the road on the “dry side,” Davis said. This would be cost neutral, in part because it would eliminate one of two gates needed here and it would also move a flood wall gate off a railroad switch, he said.

“This allows the Cargill corn plant to operate with all systems during a flood event,” Davis said.

Davis also provided a financial update during the meeting.

Cedar Rapids generated $10 million in sales tax revenue to be applied to flood protection, but did not generate enough to max out its $13 million cap for the year under the state’s growth reinvestment initiative, Davis said. The 20-year, $267 million deal with the state, allows Cedar Rapids to keep growth in sales tax revenue for flood protection. The cap increases to $15 million next year, Davis said. The city forgoes the difference between the revenue generated and the cap, Davis said, noting he does not view this as a concern at this time.

In more positive news, Cedar Rapids is expected to receive a $1 million Iowa Department of Transportation grant related to flood control for rail realignment by Quaker Oats, and the city is in the running for additional grants.

Cedar Rapids is in process of constructing a flood control system — estimated to cost $750 million over 20 years — in which a system of berms, walls, pump stations and gates protects the east and west sides of the Cedar River through downtown. City leaders recently endorsed a 10-year, $264 million bonding plan to help pay for the local share of the project. Citizens could face a 22-cent per year tax increase to pay for the plan.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Former Durant bookkeeper sentenced to two and a half years for tax fraud

CEDAR RAPIDS — A former bookkeeper and office manager for a Durant iron company was sentenced Tuesday to more than two years in federal prison for tax fraud, stemming from an embezzlement of over $1.7 million from the company over seven years.

Bobbie Hora-Guill, 46, of Bennett, pleaded guilty in April to making and subscribing a false tax return. Court documents show she allegedly stole over $1.7 million from Durant Iron and Metal Corp. from 2008 through 2015, when her employment ended. Company officials said she made false check entries, cashing checks for cash with higher amounts than what the bookkeeping system reflected and then pocketing the difference, according to court documents.

Hora-Guill hasn’t been charged in federal or state court for the alleged embezzlement but admitted to failing to report the $1.7 million on her tax returns, which resulted in $483,463 tax loss to the government.

U.S. District Senior Judge Linda Reade said she didn’t find that the alleged embezzlement was relevant conduct in the tax fraud case because prosecutors didn’t charge her with the theft.

Reade said it was “alarming” that someone can steal so much money and make false statements on her taxes then not pay the tax.

Murray Bell, Hora-Guill’s Bettendorf lawyer, asked for probation based on his client’s health issues. She isn’t able to work and mostly “lives in her recliner” at home because of medical issues, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Cole asked for 30 months, the top of the guideline sentencing for this crime. He also asked Reade to consider letters submitted to the court from the victims — company officials. In the letters, the officials said when they would confront Hora-Guill about the missing funds she would develop migraines and have to leave or start crying.

They said Hora-Guill used her health issues as a “crutch or as a manipulative tactic,” Cole said.

Cole also pointed out that any medical issues she may have could be handled by medical professionals at any federal prison.

Hora-Guill, during the hearing, apologized to the company and her family and friends, who attended the hearing and have supported her.

Reade said probation wasn’t an option and sentenced her to 30 months in prison. She also noted that any medical issues could be handled by prison medical staff.

She didn’t order a fine because Hora-Guill will likely have to pay taxes and high penalties but did order her to pay prosecution fees of $1,158.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Judge rules no additional details needed to explain sex assault with gun by Iowa City man

IOWA CITY — A judge ruled Tuesday that it isn’t necessary for the prosecution to include more details of a sexual abuse in the trial information or minutes of testimony that explains how an Iowa City man sexually abused a woman with a gun. 

Quint Meyerdirk, lawyer of Quartez Watson, 39, who is charged with second-degree sexual abuse, asked for a bill of particulars — more details to explain what makes placing a BB-gun inside a woman “sexual in nature.” The prosecution claims Watson did this while demanding the woman’s password to her phone. 

Meyerdirk said the prosecution should be required to include in the trial information or minutes of testimony more of the circumstances surrounding the incident that suggests this is “sexual in nature.”

“Putting a BB-gun inside her may not be a sex act at all,” Meyerdirk said.

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann said there was “more than enough” facts in the minutes of testimony. 

Zimmermann, in her written resistance, pointed to Iowa law that says sexual abuse can be sexual activity by use of an “artificial sexual organ or substitute” — in this case a gun.

The minutes of testimony also show that Watson and the woman were in an intimate and abusive relationship, and that he sexually assaulted her after she refused his demands for sex and for her to turn over her cellphone to him, Zimmermann said.

Court documents also show the woman’s DNA was found on the gun.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Jason Bessler said it would be unusual to place more details in the trial information, which states the charges, and will be read to the jury at the start of the trial. 

He said it’s clear, based on the charging document and minutes of testimony, that the prosecution is accusing Watson of using the gun to sexually assault the woman.

According to a police report, the woman told investigators that Watson threatened to shoot her in the head with a handgun and choked her until she passed out on May 21. When she regained consciousness, he ripped off her underwear and sexually assaulted her with the gun, while threatening to fire it if she didn’t give in to his demands, the woman told police.   

Watson’s trial is set for Nov. 6 in Johnson County District Court. 

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Ken Kates sees last day as University of Iowa hospitals CEO

After a decade atop Iowa’s largest hospitals and clinics system — leading it through programmatic and physical transformation, including implementation of an electronic health record system and construction of a 14-story Children’s Hospital — on Tuesday UI Hospitals and Clinics CEO Ken Kates served his last day.

The University of Iowa in August named Suresh Gunasekaran as its next UIHC chief executive officer and associate vice president of UI Health Care, after Kates in January announced plans to retire this summer.

Gunasekaran, chief operations officer for the University of Texas Southwestern Health System in Dallas, is scheduled to join the Iowa enterprise Nov. 15.

In the interim, the university has tapped UIHC Chief Operating Officer Sabi Singh as “CEO designee,” effective immediately. Singh stepped in as designee when the CEO was absent for short periods in the past, and he’ll maintain his regular duties during this stint, according to a UIHC spokeswoman Molly Rossiter.

Once Gunasekaran arrives, Singh will return to his sole post of chief operating officer.   

Kates’ departure is one of many recently atop the UI Health Care enterprise, which saw its last Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard retire last fall. His successor, Brooks Jackson, has been on the job nearly a year.

Past Chief Financial Officer Ken Fisher also retired in 2017. The university recently hired Bradley Haws for that vacancy, and he started Aug. 20.

During Kates’ time atop the organization from 2008 to 2018, it expanded its clinical enterprise — including the Iowa River Landing in Coralville, QuickCare clinics across the region, and primary and specialty care locations in more than 30 communities.

The system reported increases of 16-percent in inpatients, 23-percent in outpatients, and 33 percent in surgeries from 2009 to 2017; maintained a consistent ranking among the nation’s best hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report; earned a top spot on Forbes’ “America’s Best Employers” list; and erected a more than $360 million Stead Family Children’s Hospital in 2017.

He’s also weathered some challenges and controversy, including over management of that Children’s Hospital project and financial headwinds and changes across the health care landscape.

UIHC in recent budget years reported shortfalls and a deficit, prompting Kates to roll out an $86 million savings plan that cut expenses and found programmatic and salary efficiencies. l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Police arrest 23-year-old man after Monday night chase

CEDAR RAPIDS — Police arrested a 23-year-old man Monday night after he allegedly led officers on a high-speed chase on the southwest side of the city.

According to the Cedar Rapids Police Department, officers responded just before midnight to the 4100 block of Thomas Drive SW for reports of a burglary at AMTek and a stolen vehicle at Viessman Tank Wash.

While en route, police said a caller advised officers that there was a shirtless man running around in the back of the AMTek parking lot.

As officers pulled into the parking lot, police said they observed a Chevrolet pickup truck exiting the parking lot onto Thomas Drive SW without its headlights on. The truck then turned west on to 41st Avenue Drive SW and headed toward Bowling Street SW.

The police department said officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the vehicle fled.

With offices in pursuit, police said the vehicle turned north on Bowling Street SW, and proceeded north in the southbound lanes. Police said the vehicle weaving, and appeared to be losing control.

At times, police said the suspect vehicle reached a speed of 60 miles per hour on Bowling Street SW. Spike strips were successfully deployed at Wilson Avenue and Bowling Street SW, and the vehicle started to slow down as the tires deflated. The truck came to a stop at Bowling Street and Hawthorne Drive SW.

The driver, identified as Jason Michael Lafler, was arrested and taken to Linn County Jail.

Through their investigation, police said it was determined the vehicle Lafler was driving, a 1992 Chevrolet C1500, was stolen from the parking lot of PickWick at 4200 Thomas Drive SW. Before the chase, police said Lafler was seen leaving Viessman Tank Wash and getting into 2008 Chevrolet Silverado that belonged to Viessman’s Tank Wash, crashing it into a fence, and then fleeing the scene on foot.

Lafler faces charges of second-degree burglary, third-degree burglary, attempt to elude, reckless driving, operating while intoxicated-1st Offense, and two counts of second-degree theft. Lafler also faces a number of traffic violations.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Goal in sight for Mormon Trek road work

IOWA CITY — The bulk of construction on Mormon Trek Boulevard on Iowa City’s west side should be done by mid-October — not soon enough for this weekend’s Iowa Hawkeyes football traffic, but in time for the second half of the season.

“Ideally, on projects like this, we like to get them out in the spring and summer so when football starts up, we’re done, said Scott Sovers, senior civil engineer for the $1.6 million project. In this case, “getting easements set us back a little.”

Crews are adding a right-hand turn lane from northbound Mormon Trek to Benton Street, which should be done in the next week, Sovers said. The city first had to get easements on the southeast corner of the intersection and take down trees in preparation for the new turn lane, he said.

Once that’s completed, workers will redraw lane markings on Mormon Trek to change the busy north-south thoroughfare from four lanes to three from Melrose Avenue to Westside Drive.

These “road diets” with a center lane for turns are designed to make streets safer, which is why the Iowa Department of Transportation gave Iowa City $500,000 toward lane reductions on Mormon Trek, Sovers said.

“This is a safety improvement,” he said.

Mormon Trek and First Avenue, a four-lane street on Iowa City’s east side also home to recent “road diets,” had a combined 140 collisions in the past five years, with four crashes involving cyclists and two with pedestrians — one of which was fatal, according to the city’s funding request to the Iowa DOT. There has been at least $2.2 million in property damage in these collisions, The Gazette reported in January.

A dedicated turn lane on Mormon Trek will reduce the likelihood a turning car will result in a rear-end collision, Sovers said. There also is increased visibility when drivers have to look across only three lanes instead of four.

The bulk of the Mormon Trek project will be done by mid-October, Sover said, but city workers will come back in the spring to update traffic signals and curb cuts to meet handicapped-accessiblity standards.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

America to buzz as phones get ‘presidential alert’ test Wednesday

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will send messages to more than 200 million U.S. cellphones on Wednesday testing a previously unused presidential alert system that aims to warn the public in the event of a national emergency.

The test message was originally scheduled for September but was pushed back to Wednesday at 1:18 p.m. Iowa time. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will send the alert, said the messages would bear the headline “Presidential Alert,” and that phones will make a loud tone and have a special vibration.

The test has been scheduled to ensure that the alert system would work in the event of a national emergency. The message will read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” A separate alert on TV and radios will be issued at 1:20 p.m.

The tests have drawn a lot of attention on social media in part because of President Donald Trump’s propensity for sending tweets to his 55 million followers.

On a conference call, government officials told reporters that Trump would not personally trigger the alert — from his phone or any other device — and emphasized that no president could “wake up one morning and attempt to send a personal message.”

The test alert will be sent by a device similar to a laptop from a FEMA laboratory.

An actual alert would be used for an impending missile attack or other national emergency.

Then-President Barack Obama signed a law in 2016 requiring FEMA to create a system allowing the president to send cellphone alerts regarding public safety emergencies.

Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O’Rielly told reporters on Tuesday that an April 5 regional test of the emergency alert system in the Washington area showed some potential issues.

He said some people did not receive alerts on some devices during that test. “We’re trying to analyze that,” O’Rielly said.

The country’s wireless emergency alert system has issued over 36,000 alerts for situations such as missing children, extreme weather and natural disasters since 2012, but never a presidential directive.

Cellphone users can opt out of natural disaster or missing children alerts, but not presidential alerts. Verizon Communications Inc said nearly all of its mobile phone handsets are capable of getting alerts.

Government officials estimated that the alert would reach upwards of 225 million U.S. cellphones, or around 75 percent of all phones. They said a person on a call lasting 30 minutes may not get the alert as with phones with an active data connection.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Dow closes at record but Facebook drags on S&P, Nasdaq

NEW YORK — The Dow hit a record closing high on Tuesday, but another drop in Facebook shares weighed on both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq, driving both to finish in the red.

Dividend-paying sectors were the best performers of the major S&P sectors, with utilities up 1.3 percent and consumer staples up 0.6 percent. Facebook , Netflix and Amazon , part of the so-called FANG group of stocks, kept the Nasdaq in check.

The Dow was boosted by names such as Boeing and Caterpillar as investors remained upbeat on trade-sensitive companies following the deal negotiated between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Facebook fell 1.91 percent, in a third straight session of declines totaling 5.6 percent. The social media company, which on Friday disclosed its worst security breach ever, faces continuing calls for legislation to force technology firms to take responsibilities for online security seriously.

“These are all good companies that have incredibly high valuations so they are susceptible to the flu,” said Stephen Massocca, senior vice president at Wedbush Securities in San Francisco. “It is easy to create fear in these names, given the valuations and this Facebook story, that is bleeding over to these other names.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 122.73 points, or 0.46 percent, to 26,773.94, the S&P 500 lost 1.16 points, or 0.04 percent, to 2,923.43 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 37.76 points, or 0.47 percent, to 7,999.55.

The NYSE FANG+TM index , an equal-weighted index of five core FANG stocks, was down 4.2 percent for September.

The smallcap Russell 2000 index was off 1.01 percent. Smaller names, which had been viewed as being more insulated to trade pressures, are losing their luster following Sunday’s late-night North American trade agreement. The index is now down nearly 5 percent from its Aug. 31 high.

Financials were little changed, shaking off earlier losses stemming from a drop in Italian banks after a senior lawmaker in one of Italy’s ruling parties said most of the country’s economic problems would be resolved if it readopted a national currency.

“That is really a blip, it definitely doesn’t bleed through to the U.S. financial infrastructure,” said Peter Kenny, founder of Kenny’s Commentary LLC and Strategic Board Solutions LLC in New York.

PepsiCo lost 1.80 percent as disappointing margins due to higher commodity and transport costs overshadowed a quarterly profit that beat estimates.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.54-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.16-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 20 new 52-week highs and 11 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 35 new highs and 124 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 7.19 billion shares, compared to the 6.93 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Susan Thomas and Leslie Adler)

Fed’s Powell says U.S. outlook ‘remarkably positive’

BOSTON — U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday hailed a “remarkably positive outlook” for the U.S. economy that he feels is on the verge of a “historically rare” era of ultra-low unemployment and tame prices for the foreseeable future.

It is a view, he said, based on how a changed economy is operating today, with businesses and households immunized by strong central bank policy from the inflationary psychology that caused unemployment, inflation and interest rates to swing wildly in the 1960s and 1970s.

It is an outlook that includes an economic performance “unique in modern U.S. data,” with unemployment of below 4 percent expected for at least two more years and inflation remaining modest even as wages rise.

And it is an outlook he feels will even survive the Trump administration’s efforts to rewrite the global trading system, a policy shift Powell said may lead to one-time price hikes, but not to persistent changes in the annual rate of inflation going forward.

“This forecast is not too good to be true,” Powell told the National Associate for Business Economics, but instead “is testament to the fact that we remain in extraordinary times.”

“These developments amount to a better world for households and businesses which no longer experience or even fear the scourge of high and volatile inflation.”

Asked about the impact of tariffs on inflation, he replied that, so far, “we don’t see that in the data.”

Powell spoke as debate among economic analysts and investors has begun turning toward a central question: Will the current low rate of unemployment inevitably doom a near decade-long expansion by driving inflation to levels the Fed will have to suppress with faster and higher than expected rate increases?

That’s not the view contained in the Fed’s most recent round of forecasts, which sees a hot job market, steady economic growth, steady 2 percent inflation and only modest rate increases through 2021 - as if the United States had slipped into the sort of pleasant long-run equilibrium described in textbook economic models.

SEEDS OF TROUBLE

But several economists here argue that the seeds of trouble have already been planted, with companies using the recent tariff hikes on steel and other goods as an excuse to raise prices more generally, and to perhaps keep doing so.

At a time when Amazon announced a nationwide minimum wage increase that could put pressure on other retailers, the administration was trumpeting a trade pact with Mexico and Canada that will steer auto production to higher wage locales, and leaves in place new tariffs on steel, a key industrial input.

Boston Federal Reserve bank president Eric Rosengren said the current debate over globalization was not so much a “trade war” but “more of a supply chain war” that could take years to sort out as companies shift around production to higher-cost locales to escape tariffs on imports from China.

“Big importers will tell you it is not that easy to change...It becomes a real risk if all of a sudden you are not sure what your price is going to be,” he said on Monday.

Catherine Mann, global chief economist at Citigroup and former chief economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said the spark could be lit early next year.

The costs of adjusting to tariffs and to trade uncertainty “gives firms cover to say, ‘I’m going to raise my prices,’” she told the NABE annual conference. “I’m timing it for the beginning of the year,” Mann said, when a windfall from this year’s tax cuts fade.

Powell, in his remarks, said the Fed is not blind to the possible “revenge” of prices rising as they have before during times of sustained low unemployment. The central bank is guarding against that with its current, gradual interest rate increases, and will respond “with authority” if an inflationary mindset threatens to take hold.

But he noted that many current and past Fed officials, himself among them, had warned in the years following the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis that falling unemployment and the Fed’s printing of trillions of dollars of new money would unhinge inflation at any moment.

It never happened, and he said there is no reason now to expect it will.

“I am glad to be able to stand here and say that the economy is strong, unemployment is near 50-year lows, and inflation is roughly at our 2 percent objective,” Powell said. “The baseline outlook for forecasters inside and outside the Fed is for more of the same.”

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Millions set aside for Toys ‘R’ Us workers

Thousands of Toys ‘R’ Us workers who lost their jobs earlier this year soon may receive severance payments, setting a new precedent for private equity-backed companies that file for bankruptcy.

Bain Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts — two of the three companies that bought Toys ‘R’ Us in a 2005 leveraged buyout and loaded it with billions of dollars in debt before liquidating the chain in June — are setting aside millions of dollars in a fund to be distributed to retail workers, according to a person involved in the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A third owner, Vornado Realty Trust, is not contributing to the fund, that person said.

Representatives for Bain Capital and KKR declined to comment on the fund or its size. Vornado didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that they had set aside $20 million.

The workers are owed $75 million in severance pay, according to worker advocacy group Rise Up Retail. Before the bankruptcy, Toys ‘R’ Us had guaranteed its workers two weeks of severance for their first year of service, and one week of pay for every two years on the job after that.

“This win at Toys ‘R’ Us is part of a bigger movement of workers and families fighting back to hold Wall Street accountable for the investments that they make,” said Carrie Gleason, campaign manager for Rise Up Retail. “Bain and KKR made an investment that resulted in a lot of harm for families and communities, and the responsible thing to do is step up and pay workers what they are owed.”

Cedar Rapids Metro Alliance launches “buy local” initiative

The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance is urging consumers to spend their dollars at locally owned businesses as part of a new advertising campaign debuted Monday.

The “Buy Here, Give Here, Grow Here” initiative features 16 for-profit and not-for-profit businesses ranging from restaurants to pet hospitals. Four local businesses that chose to establish themselves in the area are featured in the “Grow Here” category.

The alliance estimated every dollar spent locally generates an average return of $3 to the local economy.

“Infusing more dollars locally strengthens our economy and empowers local businesses to thrive here,” said Charity Tyler, chairwoman of the alliance’s Business Support Innovation Council, in a statement.

The “Buy Here” businesses are:

• All About the Stitch, Central City

• Dan and Debbie’s Creamery, Ely

• Fairfax Piano, Fairfax

• Grin N Goose, Cedar Rapids

• Local Pour and Street Food, Cedar Rapids

• Petersen Pet Hospital, Hiawatha

• Phelan’s, Cedar Rapids

• Pierson’s Flower Shop and Greenhouses, Cedar Rapids

• The Early Bird, Cedar Rapids

• There’s No Quit! Kickboxing and Self-defense Studio, Marion

• Treasures Quality Resale Shoppe, Cedar Rapids

• WineStyles Tasting Station, Cedar Rapids

The “Give Here” not-for-profits are:

• The Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation

• Four Oaks

• Goodwill of the Heartland

• Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development

• Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa

• The Arc of East Central Iowa

The “Grow Here” featured businesses are:

• Ahmann Companies, Hiawatha

• Hughes Nursery and Landscaping, Cedar Rapids

• The Map Room, Cedar Rapids

• ImOn Communications, Cedar Rapids

The Gazette is a media co-sponsor of the initiative. The Gazette’s parent company Folience is an investor in ImOn.

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