116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Attempts in previous years to add requirements for Iowans who receive public benefits such as Medicaid and food assistance failed to pass both chambers in the Iowa Legislature.
A renewed effort is underway this year, with a new approach: Instead of pushing for just one or two big bills addressing public assistance programs, statehouse Republicans have broken the myriad proposals into a slew of bills running separately.
On Tuesday, three such bills were scheduled for subcommittee hearings in the Iowa House, although one was canceled.
Proponents of the myriad bills sometimes point to a $1.8 million fine levied by the federal government when it was revealed that Iowa had a 10 percent error rate in its distribution of food assistance benefits from the federal program known as SNAP.
“We just broke it down into eight manageable pieces,” said Iowa Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, chairwoman of the House committee through which the bills will move.
“We need to make sure that if people are eligible for the safety net that they’re getting it, and that people who are not eligible, we’re not spending tax dollars on that. So it’s really just basically fixing this system to make sure everyone is eligible.”
Critics of these types of bills generally express concern that adding more requirements or hurdles will prevent Iowans in need from getting the benefits that will help them.
“I don’t think this bill could be implemented in any way that doesn’t take food away from children,” Luke Elzinga, communications and advocacy manager for the Des Moines Area Religious Council, an interfaith network that manages a network of food pantries, said during one of Tuesday’s subcommittee hearings.
Elzinga was speaking about House Study Bill 505, which would require Iowans receiving food assistance to also cooperate with the agency that oversees child support payments.
That bill was temporarily tabled as legislators on the subcommittee determined it needs to better define the extent to which individuals are required to work with child support recovery before potentially losing food assistance benefits.
“I have no problem wanting any parents who owe child support to have to be cooperating to get SNAP benefits, but if we can narrow that language,” said Iowa Rep. Kristin Sunde, D-West Des Moines.
Earlier Tuesday, a separate subcommittee discussed House Study Bill 502, which would instruct the state human services department to set up a new computer system that would enable it to track assistance program eligibility in real time.
“The purpose of these bills is to enhance systems,” Andy Conlin, a lobbyist for the free enterprise and limited government national advocacy organization Opportunity Solutions Project, said during the subcommittee hearing. “The key to a good program is integrity.”
Advocacy groups like the Iowa Catholic Conference and American Heart Association expressed concerns with adding what they described as more bureaucratic steps or barriers to low-income Iowans getting the services they need.
“I think everybody here wants to make sure that our dollars are available for everybody who needs them,” said Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids. “I have sufficient concern (with the bill).”
Other legislation on the topic includes:
• House Study Bill 508, which requires the state to conduct asset tests on all adults in a household in which an individual is receiving assistance.
• House Study Bill 504, which requires an applicant for benefits to complete a computerized identity authentication process.
• House Study Bill 503, which requires the state human services department to forward any cases of suspected fraud to the state’s Department of Inspections and Appeals.
• House Study Bill 507, which requires the state human services department to look up the personal information of all applicants for public assistance in all other local, state and federal public records.
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