116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There’s means testing, and then there’s just plain mean.
We can see the difference in House File 3, which would throw up high barriers and dramatically curtail choices at the grocery store for Iowans who need food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It has 39 Republican co-sponsors, including the House speaker and majority leader.
The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to seek a federal waiver allowing Iowa to scrap an already restrictive federal list of approved foods and replace it with a list of food available to recipients of aid to Women, Infants and Children, or WIC.
So what would change? Well, SNAP recipients would no longer be able to use their benefits to buy meat, unless it’s canned tuna or salmon or pureed in baby food. They couldn’t buy flour, cooking oil, spices or even salt and pepper. Canned vegetables and fruit would be off the list. And no soup for you.
The bill would also, for the first time, create an asset test, limiting household assets to $2,750 or $4,250 if one member of the household is over 60. It exempts just one vehicle, potentially making households with two cars ineligible.
Beyond all of that draconian wisdom, the bill would force recipients to jump through far more regulatory hoops to become eligible and stay on SNAP, wrapping recipients tightly in red tape and likely costing the state millions more to administer the program.
We’re talking about food, folks, not some luxury. Luke Elzinga, head of the Iowa Hunger Coalition tells me that roughly half of SNAP recipients are children, disabled or elderly. Only 8 percent of SNAP clients are able-bodied adults.
“People need food to be alive,” said Natalie Veldhouse, a policy advocate for Common Good Iowa, a progressive think tank. This is now a controversial position under the Golden Dome of Wisdom.
Making it harder for struggling Iowans to get help is called “public assistance program integrity.” Sort of like “election integrity” made it harder to vote. Twisting the meaning of integrity is a good indication you really don’t have any.
Only two groups support the bill. One is the Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project, which sends its minions across the country to cut holes in the social safety net and oppose policies such as Medicaid expansion. The group is part of a web of conservative think tanks and bill mills bankrolled by rich donors who think if you just make poor people hungry and sick enough, they’ll utilize their bootstraps.
“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps,” said Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrated this week.
If this bill becomes law, we’ll need an Ebenezer Scrooge Day. Are there no prisons or workhouses?
Similar bills have been floated in past years. But what makes this so remarkably ironic is that Republicans also are pushing legislation that would eventually hand $7,600 publicly funded scholarships to any family in Iowa that wants send kids to private school. Every family would be eligible in year three of the program, with no means or asset testing whatsoever, to the tune of $341 million annually.
That money would then go to private schools that face fewer transparency requirements. It’s basically a large new entitlement program with virtually no strings attached. Gov. Kim Reynolds talks about public assistance recipients in hammocks. Scholarships likely will go to people who actually have hammocks, maybe even in-ground pools and teak patio loungers.
Of course it’s early, so the SNAP bill may be adjusted from cruel to slightly less cruel. You have to wonder if its sponsors even read the WIC food list. But the fact it was even filed at all tells you a lot about the mentality of this Legislature. Lavish benefits on our friends and screw Iowans we don’t care about. Republicans have the power, the ways and the means to be mean.
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