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Capitol Notebook: Iowans to weigh in on changes to food, health care assistance
Also, public lands bill pulled
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Mar. 30, 2023 5:50 pm
Iowa House lawmakers plan to schedule a public hearing next week on a bill that would alter eligibility requirements for low-income Iowans to qualify for food and health care assistance.
The House Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to advance Senate File 494, with three Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it.
Dozens of Iowa-based organizations registered in opposition to the bill — ranging from nurses to hospitals, social workers, and child and disability advocates — say the measure will result in thousands of Iowans being taken off Medicaid and food assistance programs.
Iowans receiving public assistance benefits would face new "asset tests" and regular checks to determine their eligibility for programs under a bill that passed the Senate last week.
The groups pointed to a projection from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency that predicts the bill will remove thousands of Iowans from the programs due to “discrepancies.”
Republicans said requiring Iowans who are receiving public assistance benefits to undergo more rigorous eligibility verification reviews would bolster program efficiency, prevent fraud and weed out abuse, and eventually save the state more than $8 million annually.
Democrats, however, argue the projected savings comes at the expense of $42 million in decreased federal funding that cannot be reallocated to other programs - meaning Iowans would continue to pay federal taxes, but no longer see the benefit of those tax dollars returning to the state to benefit Iowa families in need of assistance.
Iowa food banks and hunger assistance programs have said Iowans already have difficulties accessing government food assistance, with SNAP participation at a 14-year low, while food banks are reporting record-high numbers of Iowans seeking help.
At the same time, federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) error and fraud rates are down, while benefit recovery rates are up, said Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo.
Lawmakers did not advance a House version of the bill, which also would require able-bodied adults without dependents to participate in employment and training to receive SNAP benefits.
It also would direct the state to seek federal permission to enact work and community engagement requirements for some Medicaid recipients.
Secretary of State mails notices to ‘inactive’ voters
Iowa voters may soon, if they’ve not already, received notices in the mail that they’ve been marked as “inactive.”
Registered voters who did not participate in the 2022 general election have been made inactive and will receive a notice in the mail to confirm their place of residence. Those who do not respond will remain listed as “inactive,” according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.
Registered voters made inactive through the list maintenance process can return themselves to active status by requesting an absentee ballot, voting in an election, submitting a new registration, or updating their voter registration prior to the end of the 2026 general election cycle.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office conducts voter list maintenance as required by state and federal law.
“This mailing is just one part of the process to ensure Iowa’s voter rolls remain up-to-date and as accurate as possible,” Secretary of State Paul Pate said. “It’s a crucial component to ensure clean, accurate and fair elections across the state.”
Pate’s office did not immediately respond to a message Thursday inquiring as to how many Iowa voters were moved to “inactive.”
Iowans who receive the mailing should check the appropriate box, sign their name, and return the postcard in the mail. Postage is prepaid.
If the voter no longer lives at the address, the current resident may discard the mailing.
To check your voter registration status, visit VoterReady.Iowa.gov.
Public lands bill halted
Legislation that would have required the state to prioritize maintaining current state-owned lands over new acquisitions failed to advance out of a House committee and thus is dead for the 2023 session.
The Senate passed Senate File 516 with only Republican support. The bill advanced out of a House subcommittee on Wednesday, but it was removed from the House’s state government committee agenda on Thursday.
Rep. Austin Harris, R-Moulton, said there were concerns about the bill among Republicans on the committee. Harris said his hope is that lawmakers explore the issue after the conclusion of the 2023 session, and consider new legislation on the topic next year.
Under the bill that failed to advance, the DNR would have been required to prepare a long-term plan that would “prioritize the maintenance and protection of significant open space property throughout the state.” The department would also be required to establish criteria for acquiring new lands, but would be required to “first consider and prioritize available partnership programs with private landowners as an alternative to acquiring new property.”
Supporters of the bill said there is already too much publicly owned land in Iowa, and some farmers say they are forced to compete for land purchases with the government or organizations that purchase land and then sell it to the government.
Critics of the bill said it may have stifled the state from acquiring new lands for recreation and conservation.