Government

Iowa Legislature seeks more requirements for state-sponsored assistance

Despite cost, Senate committee moves bill forward

The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Republican legislators are seeking to implement more oversight on public assistance programs in Iowa by way of legislation being pushed to the Senate floor this week.

The Senate Labor and Business Relations on Thursday advanced a bill that would add more requirements for those seeking public assistance from the state. This comes just a day before the “funnel” deadline for non-money legislation to get the backing of a standing House or Senate committee to be eligible for further debate this legislative session.

Senate Study Bill 3193 would implement specific requirements — including work, volunteer or job training as well as drug testing — for recipients of public assistance programs such as Medicaid, the Family Investment Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP.

The legislation also directs the Department of Human Services that, if it discovers potential fraudulent activity, to report its findings to the Attorney General’s Office.

“We are trying to solve the inequities between the existence of the Iowans who are going to work every day, paying taxes and being drug tested in order to go make those wages — all the experience of the person who is not in the programs,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, during a Thursday subcommittee meeting.

“The frustrations that they are relaying to me is that people who are using their money for the same things that the taxpayer is using their own money for are not meeting the same standards.”

In early January, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cleared the way for states to request work requirements for “able-bodied” individuals among the more than 70 million Medicaid members nationwide.

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At the time of the announcement, the Department of Human Service and Gov. Kim Reynolds’s office told The Gazette they would review and consider it.

Kentucky was the first state to seek a waiver to require many enrollees to work, volunteer or train for a job. Indiana has earned permission from CMS to follow Kentucky in seeking a waiver.

Eight other states have applied for similar waivers.

House Study Bill 666 — which also included more government oversight on Medicaid, the Family Investment Program and SNAP — died Wednesday night in the Human Resources subcommittee after representatives balked at the cost it would bring — about $1 million.

However, the senate bill would cost around $100 million to implement, said Wendy Rickman, division administrator of adult, children and family services with the Department of Human Services, during Thursday’s Senate Labor and Business Relations subcommittee.

“DHS is very good at doing fiscal impact,” Rickman said. “It’s what we do. We cannot wrap our heads around this bill, frankly.”

The department serves 587,000 Medicaid enrollees, 375,000 SNAP recipients, 23,000 Family Investment Program recipients and 22,000 families with child-care assistance, Rickman said.

Republicans agreed there were needed improvements to the language, but senators in the committee kept the bill alive through the funnel.

House legislators also are continuing to look at the data.

“As we talk to Iowans, I would support people who are able to work working,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. “That’s a goal. But nonetheless, we’re going to make sure we’re not instituting a program that ends up being a big cost burden.”

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Other Democrats and lobbyists pushed back as well, saying the bill was a solution in search of a problem.

“This bill is full of stuff that can never become law, so it makes me wonder why in the hell is it in front of us,” said Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo. “I’m thinking that it has more to do with a political document. This is the kind of stuff that we see at election time.”

If these requirements were implemented, Rickman also noted people may not apply for benefits if the process is too daunting, or out of pride or shame.

“That’s not typically what our state is about,” she said.

Rickman offered to work with legislators to narrow the bill to “what might be reasonable” to address what the problem really is.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220, rod.boshart@thegazette.com; (319) 368-8536, michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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