Iowa Must Strengthen Food Assistance to Respond to Increasing Levels of Food Insecurity

Last Friday, May 15, the State of Iowa announced that the state had been approved to implement a Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) SNAP program. Later this June, each of Iowa’s nearly 226,000 students who participate in free and reduced price school meals will receive $276 in Food Assistance benefits. As reported in the Des Moines Register,

The bonuses are to be distributed via SNAP cards, which are the modern version of the federal food stamp program. Children whose families already are enrolled in the SNAP program should see increased balances in their regular accounts. Families who aren’t enrolled in the SNAP program are to receive cards in the mail from the state.

It is not expected that P-EBT benefits will continue past the one-time payment in June unless additional action is taken by Congress.

Friday’s announcement is another positive temporary step Iowa has taken to address the economic impact families are facing from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April and May, all Food Assistance program participants in Iowa received the maximum monthly benefit through Emergency Allotments granted by the USDA. In April, that led to a 78% increase in the total amount of Food Assistance benefits distributed across the state. Many people saw a substantial increase to their monthly benefit amount, but Iowans who were struggling the most and already receiving the maximum benefit saw no increase. The USDA has also temporarily removed barriers in accessing Food Assistance for people who are unemployed and struggling to find work.

These temporary policies are having a profound impact on Iowans who are struggling right now. But it is important that Iowa makes plans to address rising levels of food insecurity into the summer and beyond.

Iowa has a tremendous opportunity. At the same time tens of thousands of Iowans are struggling with hunger and food insecurity, many businesses in our state are struggling as well.
The Food Assistance program both provides food to Iowans in need and helps support Iowa’s economy. Every $1.00 in Food Assistance benefits is estimated to provide $1.54 in economic impact to local economies.

Today, the Iowa Hunger Coalition joins a diverse coalition of nearly 50 organizations in asking the State of Iowa to strengthen Food Assistance to respond to increasing levels of food insecurity through the following actions:

Iowa should continue distributing Emergency Allotments to Food Assistance participants. The State of Iowa was granted a waiver by USDA FNS to issue Emergency Allotments (EA) to Food Assistance households in April and May, which increased benefits to the maximum monthly allotment for all program participants. Iowa should work with the USDA to issue additional waivers on a month-to-month basis and continue providing Emergency Allotments until the state-wide emergency declaration is lifted.

Iowa should waive ABAWD time-limits for the foreseeable future. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) temporarily suspends ABAWD time-limits for the duration of the national emergency. Economic impacts of the pandemic are likely to last beyond then, and Iowa should waive ABAWD time-limits until the state unemployment rate has fallen back under 5%.

Iowa should expand income eligibility for the Food Assistance Program. Extending the income eligibility for the program to 200% FPL through broad-based categorical eligibility would allow more Iowans who are struggling to make ends meet access Food Assistance benefits.

Iowa should participate in the SNAP Restaurant Meals Program (RMP). SNAP RMP would allow elderly, disabled, and homeless Iowans to redeem their Food Assistance benefits at participating restaurants. Furthermore, Iowa should petition the federal government to expand RMP program eligibility to everyone who receives Food Assistance benefits. Implementing RMP in Iowa would provide an economic boost to our state’s restaurants while simultaneously providing food to Iowans in need.

Iowa should expand its investment in the Double-Up Food Bucks Program (DUFB). The Double-Up Food Bucks Program provides matching funds for the purchase of locally grown fruits, vegetables, and nuts with Food Assistance benefits at farmers markets and grocery stores. DUFB provides an additional economic boost to local growers and markets while connecting low-income Iowans with locally grown, nutritious food.

The State of Iowa has taken positive steps to temporarily address the rising level of food insecurity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but looking forward, more action is required. The economic impact of this pandemic is likely to continue for some time, and it is important that the State take action to support struggling Iowans through smart public policy. Strengthening the Food Assistance program will both put food on the tables of hungry Iowans and help to boost Iowa’s economy.

Read the Letter and View the List of Co-Signatory Organizations