Staff Columnist

Well-fed Iowa lawmakers take aim at food assistance

The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (And
The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

While we were keenly watching the slow-motion implosion of Iowa’s presidential caucuses, the Iowa Legislature has been on the job.

The Iowa Senate even passed a few bills this week.

The first was a supplemental appropriation bill providing $20 million in flood relief funding, as areas ravaged by last year’s round of record flooding continue to recover.

The third bill passed would allow Iowa breweries to obtain and possess liquor for the purpose of manufacturing canned cocktails, providing relief to Iowans who closely follow the Legislature.

Speaking of drinks, although the session is less than a month old, lawmakers already have been invited to 41 receptions sponsored by special interest groups. Among the 19 receptions that have filed disclosure reports, the food and beverage bill topped $41,000. A tiny investment given the potential for lucrative legislative action.

A party at Embassy Suites down the hill from the Statehouse sponsored by fuel marketers, electric cooperatives, biotech and communications companies and cooperatives cost $19,635.31. The greater Des Moines Partnership, the city’s economic development group, shelled out $6,000 for a reception at Curate, an event space in the hip East Village.

We don’t yet know what the Iowa Brewers Guild spent on its reception this past Wednesday night. But we do know they got Senate permission to make canned cocktails the very next day. So whatever it was, it was money well spent.

These feedbags are a truly nice bonus for lawmakers, most of whom are paid $169 daily for expenses, such as food and lodging. Polk County lawmakers get $126.75 daily during the 100-day session.

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It’s really nice government work if you can get it. As for getting your coffee, just summon a legislative page.

On a totally unrelated note, Republicans who run the Golden Dome of Wisdom are considering bills to tighten the rules for Iowans seeking food assistance.

A couple of bills meandering through the legislative process would make food assistance recipients reverify their eligibility four times annually, compared to once under current rules. Either the state, which would have to hire dozens of new employees, or a third-party vendor would be hired to more closely monitor the system, at a cost as yet unknown, though likely high. This new bureaucracy was apparently mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill, approved by our federal Trumpian overlords.

The Gazette’s James Q. Lynch reported that in five states where new rules have been put in place, the rate of “dual participation,” meaning a person illegally getting benefits in two jurisdictions, was 0.13 percent. Of the more than 3000,000 Iowans who get assistance, that would be about 206 people.

The average benefit paid to individuals in Iowa is $112.09 monthly, with an average of $231 annually for households. And, no, they cannot buy canned cocktails.

Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for the Iowa Behavioral Health Association, told a subcommittee considering the bill that it makes little sense to spend $3 million on new bureaucracy to save $30,000.

But it’s more likely the savings will come from recipients getting tangled in reporting requirements and losing their benefits on a technicality.

Groups that actually interact and serve low-income people are opposed to these bills. The only supporters are Americans for Prosperity, see brothers, Koch, and Iowans for Tax Relief.

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Besides, cracking down on the poor is a big hit politically with the Republican base. Because if you or your family needs food assistance, you’ve obviously screwed up somewhere. It couldn’t be that your low-wage job won’t cover all of your expenses in a state that hasn’t raised its minimum wage in more than a decade. Most food assistance goes to households with children. Feed them boot straps. A lack of child care, decent transportation, the cost of higher education and myriad other factors hamper these Iowans who, like most of us, are just trying to stay above water. But, hey, let’s throw up some more barriers and give them more headaches to make Americans for Prosperity feel good. The group’s secret donors are unlikely to face similar woes.

We need to closely monitor these people. Just like we do corporations who get multimillion-dollar tax credits. Oh, wait, scratch that.

But no worries, our guardians of the Golden Dome, who get more per diem in two days than the average household on food assistance gets in a month, have hashed this all out. They discussed it over a free buffet at Embassy Suites. With canned cocktails, maybe. On the house, of course.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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