Advocates call for Reynolds to reject changes to SNAP, Medicaid eligibility

By: - April 18, 2023 3:55 pm

Ken Peterson, a Des Moines veteran, said he needed assistance from social workers to complete the current certification process for public benefits, and that the bill’s proposals would make that process even more burdensome. Peterson spoke with other advocates at a DMARC press conference opposing the SNAP bill at the Iowa Capitol on April 18, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Low-income Iowans and advocates called for Gov. Kim Reynolds to veto the bill requiring new asset tests and identity verification for Iowans to access federal food assistance funds.

Speakers held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday, talking about the ramifications Iowans could face if the governor signs Senate File 494 into law. The bill sets up a $15,000 asset limit for Iowa households to remain eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance, with exclusions for the value of a car, home and $10,000 in value of a second household car.

The bill also puts new income restrictions on SNAP benefits, requiring that households earn less than 160% of the federal poverty level to stay eligible. Advocates said the measure comes as Iowa food pantries are breaking records on numbers of Iowans served, and as Iowa SNAP participation hits a 14-year low.

Matt Unger, CEO of Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), an interfaith coalition of 15 food pantries, said the first Monday and Tuesday of April were the fourth and second busiest days in DMARC’s 50-year history.

“If you aren’t alarmed by these numbers, you should be. This is typically the time of year where we’re at the bottom of our annual trend line,” Unger said.

Unger said Republicans have showed their priorities by funding a program for students to attend private schools. Lawmakers rejected Democrats’ proposals to add accountability or fraud prevention measures to Reynolds’ private school scholarship program, he said, even though it is another program where public money could be misused.

“If Governor Reynolds is to sign this bill, I’d like her to please answer why we are willing to lead with love and compassion where funding to attend the alternate schooling is concerned, but not willing to do that with our only general need assistance program,” Unger said. “Like it or not, whether their families are kicked off the program or their families simply never apply because it’s too difficult and cumbersome, signing this bill means children who need it and deserve it will not have the food they need.”

Reynolds has not publicly commented on the bill and a spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

The bill also adds additional identity verification requirements for access to both SNAP and medical assistance programs like Medicaid and Iowa’s Children’s Health Insurance Program through Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa (Hawki).

Ken Peterson, a U.S. Navy veteran living in a low-income housing area of Des Moines,  said he is unable to work, and relies solely on the $23 a month in SNAP benefits and DMARC pantries for food.

The bill will make it more difficult for him and Iowans with similar needs to access those SNAP benefits and medical assistance through programs like Medicaid, Peterson said.

“This past month I completed my most recent certification for SNAP and Medicaid,” Peterson said. “I needed to involve with social workers and other outside help to complete and gather all the documentation requested; I had to go to several places by walking and by bus to get everything ready. This took me two weeks to do, it takes a lot of energy to do an annual recertification. I can’t imagine how exhausting it will be to have to recertify more frequently. To have to gather even more documentation than I do now would be a burden.”

Others spoke in opposition to arguments lawmakers brought forward in debates on the bill, saying that eligibility tests are necessary to save costs and responsibly steward Iowa’s tax dollars. The Legislative Services Agency reported the bill would save the state an estimated $7.8 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2027, but would cause a loss of $42 million in federal funding for public assistance programs.

MaryNelle Trefz with Iowa Aces 360 said the sole source of that nearly $8 million in savings for the state comes from disenrolling Iowans from Medicaid and Hawki. Legislative analysts estimated 8,000 Medicaid recipients and 600 children’s health insurance recipients would be removed from the benefits due to reporting discrepancies beginning in fiscal year 2026.

E.J. Wallace with the Save the Children Action Network read stories from two mothers whose families receive SNAP benefits. One parent said she had no extra time to use for collecting and filing more paperwork as she balances work, child care and her children’s mental and physical health needs. Another wrote that she already needed to work two jobs to support her family, but that she feared earning a bit too much one pay period or missing a reporting requirement would put her in a position where she would lose benefits unless she stopped working.

“SNAP is designed to provide critical support for families and children facing food insecurity,”  Wallace said. “In a state like Iowa where 40 percent of recipients are children, the program is vital to combat hunger. Threatening to impose further restrictions or to make it harder to afford healthy meals hurts families across the state.”

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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.