House sends governor new legislation on SNAP identity and asset tests

By: - April 13, 2023 7:36 pm

The changes to asset and income limits for SNAP recipients now awaits final approval from Gov. Kim Reynolds. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Iowa House on Thursday passed legislation that would require SNAP recipients to undergo identity-verification and asset tests.

With the House vote of 58-41, Senate File 494 now heads to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is expected to sign the legislation.

The bill would put a $15,000 limit on assets for Iowa households to remain eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, excluding the value of a home, car and up to $10,000 of the value of a second car. The bill also requires eligible households to earn less than 160% of the federal poverty level, and to submit information through a computerized eligibility verification system before collecting SNAP and Medicaid benefits.

Thursday’s floor debate lasted four hours. Democrats cited the testimonies of SNAP and Medicaid recipients who expressed concern over the changes. Advocates for food banks, social services and religious organizations told lawmakers at a public hearing that these new tests would deny people legitimately in need of assistance to access food and medical care. Others argued there needs to be accountability measures in place to stop the misuse of taxpayer money.

Minority party members brought forward 18 amendments, all of which failed, proposing changes that included removing the asset tests, raising the income cap, and providing free lunches at Iowa public schools.

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, cited Pennsylvania’s asset test, which was reversed three years after implementation because of its high cost to the state. The Legislative Services Agency report on the bill found the measure will save the state $7.8 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2027, but would cause a loss of $42 million in federal funds that are routed to Iowans through the assistance programs.

“We can do better than this. We can learn from the mistakes of other states,” Matson said. “… Why would we choose to make the mistake they have already told us they know they made?”

Democrats said the bill will disproportionately harm Iowa’s most vulnerable communities. Multiple lawmakers shared stories of increased hunger in their communities. Rep. Rep. Josh Turek, D-Council Bluffs, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports 66% of households receiving SNAP benefits have children, and 46.7% of SNAP-receiving households contain at least one person with a disability.

“What are these families supposed to do?” Turek asked. “Sell their cars so they can qualify for a wheelchair? Food? There are no options for these people … In my opinion, this bill is a disgrace. There is zero financial benefit to the state of Iowa. It is a terrible economic decision. And even worse, it’s morally reprehensible.”

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, disagreed with some of the Democrats’ assertions on who will be impacted by the bill. Only ineligible people will be removed from the public assistance programs, Fry said, and he said Medicaid recipients will not be subject to asset tests.

“This bill takes nothing away from those who are — and the key word here is — eligible,” Fry said. “If you’re eligible for the benefit, you will receive the benefit. It protects the program for those who need it most. And I would suggest to you that we are creating a safety net today that is sustainable for the long term. Without creating that safety net, the benefits won’t be in existence in my children’s lifetime.”

Fry also mentioned the testimony heard from employers in the public hearing, who said that some potential workers have turned down jobs because they would lose their benefits, or refused a raise because they would get kicked off public assistance programs.

“Perhaps this is a job creator,” Fry said.

The LSA estimated 8,000 Medicaid recipients, 2,800 SNAP recipients and hundreds on the Children’s Health Insurance and Family Investment Programs would be removed for various discrepancies in reporting. Democrats emphasized that many of those people would still be in need but had problems in reporting their information.

The legislation would also push people off assistance through the asset test and income limits, Rep. Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City said. Levin described a person who doesn’t have family support but works a full-time job at the minimum wage. If they are putting money away for emergencies, education, or a down payment on a house, the asset test could not only terminate their benefits, she said, but make it more difficult for people to break out of poverty.

“Under this bill, we are disincentivizing saving for the future,” Levin said. “As we all know, only one emergency trip to the dentist can easily cost someone several thousand dollars. One car repair sale can run a similar tab. One goal we should all share is to encourage all Iowans to include a robust emergency savings plans in their personal accounting. Although it takes time to build, $10,000 in assets is nothing in the face of an emergency.”

While Democrats criticized the bill for taking away federal funds from Iowans, Fry said state lawmakers have a duty to be a responsible steward of all taxpayer money.

“I might also add one more time that federal tax dollars, state tax dollars, all come from the taxpayers’ pocketbooks,” Fry said. “House Republicans believe that maintaining the safety net is critical for all Iowans — those who receive, as well as those who give.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.