Lawmakers resurrect child care, public assistance proposals in budget negotiations

By: - April 24, 2021 11:00 am

The Iowa Capitol. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

House and Senate Republicans have resurrected several policy bills as the session winds to a close and lawmakers work toward budget agreements.

Lawmakers began discussion Thursday of the House Republicans’ Health and Human Services budget proposal. Much of the proposal matches with the Senate and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recommendations: It would allocate over $2 billion between the Department on Aging, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But House lawmakers also proposed two major policy changes in the budget, both based on bills that previously passed the House and then languished in the Senate. 

The first deals with mental health telehealth reimbursement. It would require health insurance companies to reimburse remote mental health visits at the same rate they would an in-person appointment. The House passed the measure as House File 284 in early March, but the Senate never took up the legislation.

“This will be the third time the telehealth language for mental health parity has shown up in the House,” Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, said in a Thursday subcommittee. “We have included that, and we hope that the Senate will understand the need for that across Iowa.”

The House budget also includes a graduated phaseout program for child care assistance, so families that see a slight increase in income wouldn’t suddenly lose all state child care benefits. That bill, House File 302, made it through a Senate committee, but has not been debated on the floor.

Meanwhile, the Senate Health and Human Services budget would create a new service to verify whether Iowans are eligible for public assistance programs. It’s a proposal similar to Senate File 389, which the Senate passed in February.

Under the legislation, the Department of Human Services would create a program to digitally track eligibility for welfare programs, including food stamps. It would also introduce new eligibility requirements for some public assistance programs.

The House never took up the legislation. Similar proposals had passed the Senate but faltered in the House in previous years, the Des Moines Register reported. 

House Speaker Pat Grassley said Thursday House Republicans were “open to making sure there’s a mechanism in place that the department will be able to follow, that when the federal dollars stop coming in … to be sure that the people who should be on the program are.”

April 30 marks the 110th day of the legislative session. Before disbanding for the year, lawmakers need to compromise on the budget and send proposals to Reynolds for consideration.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.