Like many Iowa lawmakers, Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, sends out email newsletters during the Legislative session talking about the bills he supports. In Zumbach’s Feb. 14 “From the Ground Up” newsletter, he talked about Senate File 2366.
“Another bill implements work requirements for able-bodied recipients of taxpayer-funded health care. It also updates state law to conform to the change in work requirements for food assistance required by the US Department of Agriculture,” he wrote. “Work requirements for food assistance have a track record of success.”
That last sentence got the Fact Checker team’s attention. It’s a little subjective — after all, how do you measure success? But we thought it was worth exploring whether there is data showing the effects of increasing work requirements.
When we asked Zumbach where he got his information about the success of work requirements for people on food assistance, he sent the Fact Checker a link to a 2018 Wall Street Journal article. That piece explored what happened after Wisconsin started in 2015 requiring food stamp recipients without kids to work 20 hours a week and attend a state job training program.
“After the rules were imposed, some 25,000 food-stamp recipients entered the job market,” the article states. “Another 86,000 either lost their benefits after failing to meet the new requirements or no longer needed government assistance.”
While those results show some workers entered the job market, more than three times as many ended up without assistance. The Journal talked with one 50-year-old woman who failed to meet the job training requirement, lost her food stamps and “is now homeless.”
The USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program already requires “able-bodied adults” ages 18 to 49 who don’t have dependents to work at least 20 hours a week for more than three months over a three-year period.
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A new rule that goes into effect April 1 would prohibit states from waiving the requirements for some “work-eligible adults” without dependents, USA Today reports. The USDA has estimated 688,000 people would lose access to food stamps because of the changes.
In Iowa, more than 320,000 people rely on food assistance.
SF 2366 prohibits the Iowa Department of Human Services from waiving work requirements for food stamp recipients and directs the department to assign non-exempt recipients to an “employment and training program.” The bill also creates work requirements for some Medicaid recipients.
Human Services spokesman Matt Highland said Iowa has 29,850 food assistance recipients who are “mandatory work registrants” and who would be subject to the new requirements.
“While they are currently compliant with their MWR requirements, it is difficult to determine how many would not participate in the additional requirements,” Highland said. “The Department is contacting other states to determine estimates.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated to health, opposes the USDA’s changes in SNAP, saying the work requirements would be hard to meet in states with fewer jobs available and could affect children who get food support from noncustodial parents.
“With health care costs due to hunger and food insecurity already at an estimated $160 billion annually, cutting off SNAP benefits from these already vulnerable participants could exacerbate those costs further,” Dr. Richard Besser, foundation president and chief executive officer, said in comments submitted to the USDA.
Zumbach considers the work requirements a success because they have pushed thousands of Americans to join the workforce, he said in an email. Iowa has one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates of 2.7 percent and many employers are looking to hire more people.
But the data collected in Wisconsin and estimates of what will happen when the new federal rules go into effect this spring show many more people losing their food assistance. While this might make the food stamp program cheaper, it also means more people would rely on food banks or make choices between food and other expenses like housing that pose additional costs for communities.
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Zumbach’s statement about work requirements for food assistance having a “track record of success” fails — according to the article he cited — to take into account the far larger collateral damage shown in the article. We give him a D.
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We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
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This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan.