Revised SNAP Bills Still Threaten Food Security in Iowa
Last week, House File 3 and Senate Study Bill 1105 both came before their respective House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees. Both passed out of committee with amendment as expected. The Senate bill passed along a party-line vote, and in the House, two Republicans (Rep. Eddie Andrews and Rep. Brian Lohse) voted against the bill along with all Democrats on the committee.
HF 3 has been renumbered as House File 613, and SSB 1105 has been renumbered as Senate File 494. These newly-amended bills did make some improvements to the original bill language, but would still put Iowans at risk of losing their SNAP benefits due to new eligibility requirements and additional administrative hurdles to navigate.
The good news?
- The asset limit for SNAP has been increased.
- the child support cooperation requirement for custodial parents has been dropped
but… there’s still a lot of harmful pieces, including a new requirement in HF 613 (that was not originally in HF 3) that would require all able-bodied adults without dependents to participate in Employment & Training programs as a condition of being eligible for SNAP.
What’s All in These Bills?
HF 613 and SF 494 share some identical language, and include the following proposals:
- Establishing an asset limit for SNAP. The new asset limit would be $15,000, and adds an exclusion for the first $10,000 in fair market value of a second vehicle (one vehicle is excluded entirely).
- Households with more than two vehicles would still be at risk of losing access to SNAP.
- Were this policy implemented, we’d also likely see many Iowans who are well below the asset limit lose access to SNAP simply because they could not meet the additional reporting requirements. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, “asset tests may reduce participation among eligible households even if their assets are below the limit.”
- Requiring all applicants for public assistance programs to complete a computerized questionnaire to verify their identity. While we believe this could reduce barriers for some people, we also believe it would introduce a new barrier for others.
- What’s more – this requirement goes against USDA guidance for SNAP. We believe this could be improved by providing an “opt-out” of the process for people to verify their identity the traditional way.
- Establishing a real-time eligibility verification system for public assistance programs. This would also give the state the option to contract with a third-party vendor to administer this real-time eligibility verification system. Real-time checks would be conducted against a laundry list of data sources, with potential discrepancies flagged within the system. When a discrepancy is flagged, HHS would notify the individual in writing, and they would have 10 days to respond, or lose access to benefits. Rather than “streamlining” the eligibility verification process,
- we believe this would create more work for HHS, increase administration costs, and lead to SNAP recipients being dropped from the program, potentially without their knowledge.
House File 613 also contains some additional provisions, including:
- Banning candy and non-sugar-free soda from SNAP purchases. Studies have shown that there is no difference in the types of foods purchased by SNAP and non-SNAP households. The main barrier to having a healthier diet identified by SNAP participants? The high cost of healthy food. Most Iowans could do a better job at improving their diet and exercise, regardless of income. This is a punitive approach to a complex issue.
- It’s also highly unlikely that USDA would grant Iowa the waiver to implement this (something it has never done).
- Appropriating $1 million to the Double Up Food Bucks program, but only if USDA approves a waiver for the above restrictions on food items. Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) is a nutrition incentive program for SNAP that helps low-income Iowans afford fresh fruits and vegetables. DUFB is a triple-win for Iowa – increasing access to healthy food for SNAP participants, supporting Iowa farmers, and keeping the money in the local economy. And with matching funds available from private sources and the USDA, a $1 million investment from the state of Iowa would lead to $4 million in total funding for DUFB. Why put this funding at risk by tying it to USDA approval that is highly unlikely to occur?
- Mandatory participation in the SNAP Employment & Training program for able-bodied adults without dependents. From our interpretation of the language of this bill, this would apply to ALL able-bodied adults without dependents, regardless of whether they are already employed. We support the SNAP E&T program, but believe participation should be voluntary, not mandatory.
- Work reporting requirements for Iowans in the Medicaid expansion population, and decreasing the reasonable compatibility standard for income eligibility from 10% to 5%. Research has shown these types of work reporting requirements do not increase employment and earnings, but only serve to remove people from the program who cannot meet the requirements, especially for women. We also believe the state should not be creating stricter income eligibility for Medicaid.
What’s Next for These Bills?
Senate File 494 has been placed on the calendar and is now eligible for debate on the Senate floor. We are not sure when this will happen, but we’ll be sure to let you know. House File 613 has been referred to the Appropriations Committee, meaning we will have another opportunity to testify on the bill at a subcommittee meeting before it moves on to the House floor. We’ll keep you updated on that as well.
What Can You Do?
Contact your legislators today (find your legislators here) and tell them why you do not support making it more difficult to access SNAP and other public assistance programs! If there is a particular piece of this bill that affects your life – let them know it! You can also share this post with friends and family to get the word out, and consider writing a Letter to the Editor about why these bills are a bad idea for Iowa!