Iowa Senate approves welfare work requirements

Democrats note bill puts more at risk than it saves

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig

DES MOINES — Able-bodied adults without school-aged children or dependents would be required to work, volunteer or perform charity work to receive Medicaid benefits or public food assistance under legislation passed Tuesday by the Iowa Senate.

A total of 31 Republicans voted for Senate File 2366 while 17 Democrats and one GOP senator opposed the measure.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said Iowa is part of a national conversation to help people get off the welfare system and move toward a track of employment, training and self-sufficiency.

“We are going to become part of the states that are seeking to do this,” he said in promoting various employment and community engagement initiatives. “I think Iowans want us to do this. I think it’s popular.”

The Senate passed a similar measure in 2019, but it was not considered by the House. Schultz said the Senate made some tweaks and passed the bill again to keep the conversation going. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

The bill would take effect upon enactment. The provisions that do not require federal approval would be required to be implemented beginning Jan. 1 and those that require federal approval would be implemented only after the state Department of Human Services receives it.

“This isn’t motivation. This is punishment and it’s punishing Iowa’s working poor the hardest,” said Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, who argued for a wait-and-see approach due to litigation already underway challenging similar provisions in other states.

“We’re going to run headfirst into a brick wall here,” he said.


The bill contained exceptions, such as for the parents of young children and disabled Iowans. But other adults between the ages of 18 and 64 would have to show state officials they are working 20 hours a week under the rules.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, called the legislation a mix of “take-aways,” bureaucracy and red tape from Republicans who talk less government regulation and interference.

“This seems mean-spirited to me, un-Iowan to me and I don’t like it,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a Democrat who argued many Iowans already are working in low-wage jobs but still need assistance and will get “tripped up” by new requirements.

According to a fiscal note prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, the state would see an estimated net savings of nearly $17.6 million in fiscal 2021 and $37.2 million the following year.

But Hogg noted the bill would require the state to give up federal Medicaid funds totaling $108 million in fiscal 2021 and $224.6 million in fiscal 2022 due to bureaucratic hurdles established in the measure.

“This bill is bad for the Iowa economy,” he said.

Schultz said he believes Iowans want the state’s welfare programs to promote the Iowa work ethic.

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