2022 Iowa Legislative Session Starts Off with an Ugly Tone

This week, the Iowa Legislature gaveled in for the 2022 session. In his opening remarks, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver called public assistance programs a “lifestyle.” In Gov. Reynold’s Condition of the State address, she stated “the safety net has become a hammock” that is leading to societal decay.

Anti-hunger advocates, it’s clear we’re in for an ugly session. But before we get into the bad bills we’ve already seen proposed, let’s start on a positive note.

Iowa Hunger Coalition’s 2022 Legislative Agenda

A top item of our advocacy agenda this year is asking the legislature to support the Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program with a $1 million appropriation to help low-income Iowans on SNAP afford fresh fruits and vegetables. The number one barrier identified by SNAP participants to eating more healthy food is prohibitive cost. And Double Up Food Bucks is a triple-win for Iowa: it supports families, farmers, and the local economy.

While we have a few positive opportunities ahead of us this session, we unfortunately once again will be defending the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from harmful changes.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ann Meyer introduced seven bills related to SNAP in the House Human Resources Committee. The language in these bills appears to be taken verbatim from SF389, which passed the Senate last year despite strong opposition from advocates.

Three of the bills are blatantly bad, and the Iowa Hunger Coalition is already registered against them. The other four could have the potential to improve the state’s verification system, but more needs to be known about about the cost and impact on people enrolled in SNAP. See below for more information on these bills.

So, what can you do?

  • First, you can contact your legislators (find them here) and let them know you support SNAP and the Double Up Food Bucks program.
  • Second, save the date for the Iowa Hunger Coalition’s online day of action on Wednesday, February 9. We’ll be holding a webinar at 9:00am and will provide multiple ways you can take action throughout the day, no matter where you are in the state. More details will be announced shortly.
  • Submit public comments and attend subcommittee meetings as you are able. We’ll be sure to let you know as those arise. See below for subcommittee assignments.
  • Finally, consider submitting a letter to the editor to your local paper. The disturbing rhetoric we have heard from our state’s leadership can’t go unanswered.

Thank you for your steadfast advocacy to end hunger and food insecurity in Iowa. We need you in this fight now more than ever.

Details on proposed SNAP bills this session

Seven bills pertaining to SNAP were introduced in the Iowa House on Tuesday, January 11, by Rep. Ann Meyer.

Perhaps the worst of the bunch is HSB 508, which would decrease access and kick people off SNAP by establishing an asset limit.

  • Households would face a limit of $2,500 in assets, or $3,750 in assets if at least one member of the household is age 60 or older, or is disabled. The value of a household’s primary residence and one vehicle would be excluded, as would retirement accounts.
  • Asset limits have been shown to discourage people who are eligible from applying for SNAP, increase administrative costs, and discourage people from saving for emergencies. Even children’s savings accounts would count toward the total asset limit for a household.
  • The median bank account amount is $150 for SNAP households (among those with an account).
  • Households with more than one vehicle would be at risk of losing eligibility for SNAP benefits. Having a vehicle can be the difference between finding employment or not, especially in rural areas of the state without public transit.

Another bad bill is HSB 505, which requires custodial parents to cooperate with the child support recovery unit or lose access to their SNAP benefits.

  • There is no evidence this type of policy generates significantly more child support payments to custodial households.
  • There is not a way to implement this provision that does not result in taking food away from children.
  • The National Child Support Enforcement Association (NCSEA) opposed a measure in the 2018 Farm Bill that would require all states to implement cooperation requirements for SNAP.
  • A subcommittee meeting for HSB 505 is scheduled for next Tuesday, January 18, at 4:00pm in Room 304.1. Submit a public comment or contact the subcommittee members below to let them know you oppose this bill!

    Rep. Anne Osmundson, anne.osmundson@legis.iowa.gov
    Rep. Steven Bradley, steven.bradley@legis.iowa.gov
    Rep. Kristin Sunde, kristin.sunde@legis.iowa.gov

HSB 504 would require SNAP applicants to authenticate their identity with a computerized knowledge-based questionnaire.

  • This bill appears to go against federal USDA FNS guidelines for identity authentication systems, which states that “the use of an identity authentication process must be an option to applicants that they can choose to opt into or out of at any time during the application process without negative consequences.”
  • While this bill has the potential to increase access for some people, it also presents a significant access barrier to many people, especially those without internet access, limited credit history, or limited English proficiency.
  • Were this new computerized identity authentication process an option, not a requirement, it would have the potential to increase access for SNAP applicants and would be in-line with USDA regulations.
  • A subcommittee meeting for HSB 504 already met on Thursday, January 13. Please email the subcommittee members below and ask them to change the language in HSB 504 to allow applicants to opt-out of the computerized process:

    Rep. Tom Moore, tom.moore@legis.iowa.gov
    Rep. Eddie Andrews, eddie.andrews@legis.iowa.gov
    Rep. Liz Bennett, liz.bennett@legis.iowa.gov

The other four bills could also be cause for concern. The Iowa Hunger Coalition is currently registered as “undecided” on these bills as we seek to learn more about their impact.

HSB 502 and HSB 507 both focus on implementing new verification and authentication systems for SNAP and other public assistance programs.

HSB 503 and HSB 515 focus on public assistance program fraud and case reviews, respectively.

  • It is not clear what problems these bills would actually address that aren’t already covered by existing Iowa law and DHS policy.

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