The vast majority of speakers at an Iowa House subcommittee hearing were against several sections of a new bill that would drastically restrict and burden low-income Iowans using food assistance and Medicaid. A provision to prevent the purchase of fresh meat had already whipped up a national firestorm of controversy.
“There’s a number of harmful provisions,” said Luke Elzinga of the Iowa Hunger Coalition.
Speakers at Thursday’s hearing described how proposed work requirements, food restrictions, and asset restrictions that would limit benefit-receiving households to one vehicle would leave many families unable to access the food, transportation, or health care they need.
The bill, House File 3, will likely be amended, said subcommittee chairman Rep. Tom Jeneary (R-Le Mars).
An amendment was already planned to drop a requirement that would restrict SNAP recipients to the WIC list, a much more restrictive list of foods and beverages that has been widely criticized in national media. That list, which is designed for mothers and infants, would have prevented SNAP recipients from being able to purchase fresh meat among many other items.
“We plan on just taking out candy and … soda that is not zero-calorie,” said subcommittee member Rep. Ann Meyer (R-Fort Dodge).
But even that was short-sighted, speakers noted. One woman, who just gave her first name as Tara, said her doctor has told her to keep candy bars like Snickers and sports drinks like Powerade on hand to help her manage her chronic health condition.
“You’re not my physician. You’re not my nutritionist,” she said. “You need to trust me to know what (my) needs are … What makes it bad for you doesn’t make it bad for me.”
Another issue for many was the asset test, which would add likely millions of dollars in administrative costs and the denial of benefits to tens of thousands, said Cyndi Pederson of the Iowa Food Bank Association. She said when Pennsylvania tried a similar restriction, the decision was reversed in three years.
“Many states have moved away from an asset limit because it is an administrative burden,” Pederson said, noting there was no extra money being allocated to pay for it, either.
Coming up with those extra documents would also severely burden domestic violence victims who often have to flee their homes quickly, and 80% of victims relied on SNAP nationally, said Laura Hessburg with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“It takes time to apply to the ‘good cause’ exemption” in the bill, she said. “It would take documentation they don’t have. This is unworkable for most victims.”
When Arkansas tried adding work requirements to public assistance eligibility in 2018, the number of uninsured people rose while an increase in employment never came, said Jackie Cale of the American Cancer Society. Such requirements would especially be a barrier for Medicaid recipients with cancer, up to 85% of whom can’t work during treatment, she said.
“If enacted, Medicaid work requirements could result in those with a history of cancer or serious health conditions being unable to access the only affordable health care option to help them treat or manage their disease,” Cale said.
Besides generally being a bad idea, work requirements are likely unconstitutional, said MaryNelle Trefz with Iowa ACEs 360.
“There are no states currently implementing work requirements, and the state can expect hefty legal challenges,” Trefz said, pointing out the US Supreme Court reaffirmed work requirements for public benefits were unlawful.
Only four lobbyists supported it, including Tyler Raygor with Americans for Prosperity, a conservative dark-money political advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers.
“We are dealing with finite taxpayer dollars,” Raygor said. “We think it’s important that we’re making sure these programs are narrowly tailored to folks who do need them.”
by Amie Rivers
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