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SNAP changes could hurt older Iowans
Mar. 31, 2023 1:34 pm
In recent years, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have been an essential component of keeping food on the table for thousands of Iowa families as costs soared and jobs were lost due to the pandemic. Iowa legislators are now considering bills that would introduce burdensome asset tests to verify SNAP eligibility. Nearly 34,000 older Iowans receive SNAP benefits, and the changes being considered by the Iowa Legislature would likely result in needy families being removed from the program.
AARP believes all eligible Iowans should have access to public assistance programming when they need it and obtaining this assistance should be straightforward and efficient. As written, the provisions outlined in House File 613 to establish and verify asset limits, in addition to the current income eligibility requirements to receive SNAP, create additional bureaucratic hoops for seniors and caregivers to jump through in order to receive the assistance they need.
In Iowa, there are approximately 330,000 unpaid caregivers providing much needed care to loved ones. Many caregivers work part or even full-time jobs, while running errands, doing chores, and fixing meals for older family members. Implementing the asset test proposed in HF 613 could have unintended consequences for caregivers, resulting in a devastating financial burden for thousands of families across the state.
Imagine being a caregiver to an elderly mother who moved into your home. She was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, is unable to bathe herself, and struggles with general mobility, but as a lifelong cook, still enjoys participating in the making of meals in a supervised manner. Under current law, your mother is now considered part of your SNAP household since she lives under your roof and you purchase/prepare meals together. Your mother receives her monthly Social Security income, brought with her a car that she has owned for many years, though she no longer drives, and ultimately needs 24/7 care as her Alzheimer’s continues to progress. As a result, you are no longer able to work and rely on your mother’s Social Security income to cover your expenses. With the proposed changes in HF613, though your mother brings little to the table from an income perspective, her assets would now count against you and the total assets/income for your SNAP household. So, what does this mean? If the combination of your total assets and her total assets exceed the proposed $15,000 threshold, you and your mother may not be SNAP-eligible.
Today, only 36 percent of eligible seniors in the state of Iowa receive SNAP benefits — a 14-year low in the state. Why is this? The answer is complex, though many would argue the programs are not meeting recipients where they are and in the ways they need. Rather than creating barriers, we should be working to find ways to make life easier for older Iowans and our unpaid caregivers through tax credits, innovation and caregiver education.
AARP recognizes the importance of proper management of public funding, and we believe existing laws adequately prevent fraud, waste and abuse within the SNAP program. We stand ready to work with the state of Iowa to assist in promoting the SNAP program, educating Iowans about how the program works and clarifying eligibility guidelines. We believe this is a better approach for supporting older Iowans and their caregivers.
Brad Anderson is AARP’s Iowa state director.
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