Sen. Chuck Grassley is one of the most powerful and longest-serving members of the U.S. Senate, but he is also a family farmer with deep ties to Iowa’s rural communities and the electric cooperatives that serve them.
Grassley has used his membership on the Finance, Budget and Agriculture committees to help push through crucial legislation for co-ops, including the RURAL Act and the SECURE Act in 2019.
The SECURE Act helped co-ops save a total of more than $30 million in pension insurance premiums paid to the federal government. The law adjusted the formula that determines what certain co-ops and other not-for-profit organizations must pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. It lowered premiums for co-ops that participate in the NRECA Retirement Security plan, reflecting the extremely low risk that co-ops will default on their pension payments.
The Republican senator’s efforts were honored in 2020, when he was given the NRECA Distinguished Service Award.
“But for his support in Congress, the not-for-profit status of electric cooperatives across the nation would be in jeopardy and co-op employees would bear unnecessary financial burden on their way to a successful and much deserved retirement,” wrote Chuck Soderberg, executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, in a letter nominating Grassley for the award.
On a local level, Soderberg says, Grassley worked tirelessly to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to honor its commitment to deliver badly needed recovery and mitigation funds to several Iowa co-ops that suffered severe damage during winter ice storms.
“Had FEMA been successful in their approach to that situation, it would have had severe negative implications for cooperatives across the country the next time they were hit by disaster,” Soderberg says. “It would be hard to imagine what stress and burden America’s electric cooperatives would have had to endure if Senator Grassley allowed that precedent to be set.”
Grassley is also a member of the Senate Broadband Caucus and has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to expand access to rural broadband.
In addition to his legislative victories, Grassley has always been accessible and attentive to Iowa co-ops and their members, statewide association leaders say.
“For decades, he has met with our group when we fly to Washington, D.C., has attended annual meetings, has visited electric co-ops for tours and meet-and-greets, and his office continues to be open to hearing our concerns,” Soderberg says. “He also exceeds expectations for Youth Tour students by meeting them at the U.S. Capitol every year and even inviting them on his morning jogs, where he wears his own green ‘Rural Power’ T-shirt.”
Grassley says he’s had an up-close look for decades at the positive impact of co-ops.
“Farming on the same patch of earth in Butler County, Iowa, that I was born on in 1933, I’ve seen firsthand how important local electric cooperatives are for keeping the lights on in rural communities across the country,” the senator says. “The power of community to collaborate for a shared interest is democracy at its core. Rural co-ops have mastered this principle, and I’ll continue working at the federal level so they can continue delivering power to rural Americans for years to come.”
Grassley is the second-longest-serving member currently in the U.S. Senate, behind only Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has announced plans to retire in January 2023. Grassley, who plans to seek re-election this year, is the longest-serving senator in Iowa history. The 88-year-old lawmaker was first elected to the Senate in 1980, after serving three terms in the U.S. House. Before his election to Congress in 1974, he served 16 years in the Iowa state Legislature.