The Iowa Senate passed legislation establishing asset tests for food assistance. (Photo via Canva)
Iowans receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits would have to go through an asset test to continue receiving benefits under a bill passed by the Iowa Senate Wednesday.
Senate File 494 would require Iowa families on SNAP have a maximum of $15,000 in assets to remain eligible. The bill would also create a new system for the Iowa Health and Human Services Department to verify families’ income, asset and identities in order to apply and remain eligible for these benefits.
The bill gained national attention in January for requiring food bought through SNAP to meet Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) program requirements — putting foods like fresh meat, sliced cheese and bagged salads off limits. This provision was dropped, but Democrats still argued the bill would have a major negative impact on low-income Iowa families.
The bill was amended before coming to the floor to exclude one vehicle from asset tests and $10,000 from the market value of an additional vehicle, after hearing from hunger resource advocates about the rising costs of cars and need for personal transportation in most of Iowa.
Several amendments proposed by Democrats included increasing the length of time for people to respond to the state notice of issues identified in review and increasing the income threshold for eligibility.
Republicans said the measure is necessary to combat fraudulent use of public benefit programs. But Democrats and opponents to the bill said this fraud isn’t happening in Iowa and the changes will prevent Iowans who are legitimately in need from accessing public assistance for food.
In subcommittee meetings on the bill, advocates with Iowa food banks and hunger assistance programs said Iowans already have difficulties accessing government food assistance, with SNAP participation at a 14-year low while food banks reported record-high numbers of Iowans coming in.
Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines, listed the number of SNAP recipients in each senator’s district and how much money local grocery stores and food providers see from that aid. The new tests and requirements could prevent people who qualify under new restrictions from accessing public aid, Trone Garriott said, as well as take money from local Iowa communities.
“Asset tests, no matter how high we set that level, mean that folks have to calculate and provide proof for everything they own,” Trone Garriott said. “That’s going to be a barrier to a lot of people to complete the process, or to even apply, because they have to detail everything. I don’t know if I could provide that kind of proof.”
But the bill’s floor manager, Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, disagreed with Trone Garriott on the role of public assistance programs in local economies. These programs are “not intended to be economic generating programs,” he said.
“It is mean spirited and a little bit appalling to even suggest that we need to keep Iowans on SNAP in order to fuel our economy,” Edler said.
Edler said no Iowans will be removed from SNAP unless they are found to not qualify for the assistance. He said claims that fraud wasn’t happening in Iowa were false, pointing to reports like one of the state violating U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations involving the SNAP program in 2018.
“We have a responsibility as elected officials to ensure that tax dollars are being responsibly allocated,” Edler said.
The bill passed 34-16, and heads to the House. A companion bill, House File 613, has passed through the House Health and Human Services Committee but has not yet moved through the appropriations process.
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