IOWA LEGISLATURE

Efforts to step up verification requirements for food stamps, other aid draws objections

Almost 300 new employees would be needed under proposal, Iowa Medicaid director tells legislators

A close-up view shows intricate details on the Iowa Capitol building Dec. 19, 2019, in Des Moines. (Andy Abeyta/The Gaze
A close-up view shows intricate details on the Iowa Capitol building Dec. 19, 2019, in Des Moines. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Similar proposals to change eligibility rules for public assistance fared differently Tuesday in the Iowa House and Senate, but in both cases the legislation remains under consideration.

A House Human Resources subcommittee delayed taking action on House File 2030 until it hears a presentation from the departments of Human Services and Inspections and Appeals on their efforts to verify the eligibility of participants in state public assistance programs.

Iowa Medicaid Director Michael Randol told the subcommittee that it would take 250 to 280 new employees to handle the new verification processes.

That would make HF 2030 an “AFSCME jobs bill,” according to Charlie Wishman, who lobbies for the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, which includes AFSCME, the union that represents state workers. AFSCME opposes the bill.

Enthusiasm ran higher among members of a Senate subcommittee on Senate Study Bill 3068. Two Republicans on the panel signed off to send the bill to the full Labor and Business Relations Committee.

The change, which would include public assistance recipients verifying eligibility four times a year, would make the system stronger, said chairman Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig. He supported the bill last year because it would result in “tens of millions of dollars in savings.” However, after studying the issues since last session, he sees it as producing “tens of millions of dollars in efficiencies.”

In both subcommittee hearings, representatives of organizations that serve the Iowans who would be affected called the proposals burdensome, costly, redundant and unnecessary.

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“It’s a disproportionate response” to a perceived fraud problem, said Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for the Iowa Behavioral Health Association. It wouldn’t make sense to spend $3 million to save $30,000, she said.

The 2018 farm bill mandates the verification process being considered for food stamp participants. Dave Stone, lobbyist for United Way of Central Iowa, presented data from the National Accuracy Clearinghouse, which would do the verification, showing that in the five states participating at this time, there was dual participation — one person claiming benefits in two jurisdictions — an average of 0.13 percent of the time. Applying that to Iowa, which has 318,000 people on food stamps, Stone said that would equate to 413 cases, or 206 Iowans dually enrolled in public assistance.

“There are better ways to spend tax money,” Stone said.

However, others saw a need for the changes.

“It’s important to see that the taxpayers’ money is being spent responsibly,” Victoria Sinclair of Iowans for Tax Relief said. That assurance is lacking now, she said.

“There’s an obligation to have as much oversight as possible” of taxpayer money, added Drew Klein of Americans for Prosperity. The value of the verification rules is to ensure that the funds are used for the most vulnerable Iowans, he said.

But Leslie Carpenter of Iowa City, whose adult son has mental health issues, called the current guidelines “stringent enough.” Rather than spending more on administrative functions, she recommended spending those dollars on services.

Later, when asked about the proposals, Gov. Kim Reynolds said it was critical that the state update its technology so it can comply with the federal mandate. The federal government fined Iowa last year because it made errors in administering food stamps at a rate of 10 percent, well above the national error rate of 6.8 percent.

In her budget, Reynolds has asked for three- and five-year technology plans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is allowing the state to use part of the $1.8 million fine to pay for technology.

“We said we know we need to do better, we know we need better technology,” she said. “So they agreed to let us use some of that fine to put toward that.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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