REFORM- Bill could make Iowans with cars, savings ineligible for SNAP, Medicaid

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[MM Curator Summary]: The fight to trim the SNAP/Medicaid spending in Iowa now has a Senate bill version.



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The Salvation Army of Ames stocks shelves with food donations from community members as well as corporate contributions. (Photo by Kate Kealey for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Having a car or modest savings could disqualify families for some public assistance under a bill lawmakers are considering in the Iowa Senate.

Senate Study Bill 1105 would require an asset test for Iowans applying for SNAP and Medicaid assistance. The Senate bill does not include changes proposed in the House legislation that restrict the use of SNAP to purchase certain foods, including soda and candy.

A subcommittee on Wednesday recommended moving the bill forward with amendment to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The asset limit would match the federal asset test guidelines, which would mean families could have a maximum of between $2,750 and $4,250 in assets, depending on the disability status of household members, to remain eligible for the public assistance programs. The test would apply to both savings and property like cars and land.

Speakers and legislators questioned Wednesday whether the bill’s asset limit tests would kick off kids from program benefits if their parents were found ineligible when factoring in their assets’ value.

Following the pandemic and supply chain problems, even used cars skyrocketed in value, lobbyists speaking against the bill said. That would automatically disqualify many legitimately needy Iowans from accessing assistance. It also could mean if a household with children exceeds these value limitations, the kids’ coverage in these program could be affected.

Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, said he would check with Iowa HHS staff on children’s qualifications, but still stood in support of some form of asset test. He said families with snowmobiles or $5 million worth of land in Nebraska should not be receiving taxpayer money in Iowa.

“I think we need to work together to try and figure out how do we truly get help to these folks,” he said, and asked for suggestions of what asset level would be appropriate.

Representatives of Iowa food banks and hunger assistance programs said many Iowa residents who face food insecurity already do not qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, under state law. Even though SNAP use is at a 14-year low, Iowans are coming at record-high numbers to get assistance from food banks, Luke Elzinga with the Des Moines Area Religious Council Food Pantry Network and the Iowa Hunger Coalition said.

It’s unrealistic to expect rural Iowans to live without cars, Elzinga said, and not being able to save money could keep those people from exiting poverty long term.

“This tells me that the state should be looking at ways to expand access to the program,” Elzinga said.  “Investing in things like Double Up Food Bucks, looking at raising the income eligibility for SNAP. This really feels like a step in the wrong direction for our state.”

Other changes include a requirement for single parents to work with the state on child support payment enforcement to stay eligible, and for new documentation requirements.

These new stipulations will make it harder for people in need to access food or health care, Laura Hessburg with Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence said. Victims leaving an abusive home often do not have time to grab the IDs or documents they would need under the legislation to prove their eligibility. Additionally, it would be dangerous to force domestic abuse survivors to contact their abuser about child support to qualify for benefits, she said.

Additionally, speakers opposed to this bill repeatedly brought up Pennsylvania, where the state’s asset test was reversed within three years of implementation because a study showed its high cost to the state.

But lobbyists with conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Opportunity Solutions Project spoke in support of the legislation, saying lawmakers have an obligation to serve as responsible stewards of taxpayer funds. Asset tests are not meant to keep people in need off of assistance programs, but instead make sure the money isn’t going to people who shouldn’t receive it.

Scott Centorino with the Opportunity Solutions Project said it’s important to remember Pennsylvania is not the only state that has  implemented asset tests. He said other states have “gotten ahead” of Iowa on welfare accountability measures.

“For every Pennsylvania, there’s a Missouri or a South Dakota or a Kansas,” Centorino said. “Those states have not turned back.”

The legislation will next be discussed by the full Senate Health and Human Services Committee.