Iowa Hunger Coalition Commends Increase to SNAP Benefits

The Iowa Hunger Coalition commends the USDA’s modernization of the Thrifty Food Plan announced last week. This will result in a 27% increase to the average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit amount for 285,000 Iowans enrolled in the program, known in Iowa as Food Assistance. This will amount to an additional $116 million in annual SNAP benefits from the federal government for program participants in Iowa.

The increase will take effect on October 1, one day after a temporary 15% increase to SNAP benefits included in the 2021 American Rescue Plan expires on September 30.

“Over the last 17 months, our food pantry—like many across Iowa—has experienced a record number of visitors,” said John Boller, Executive Director of the Coralville Community Food Pantry and Iowa Hunger Coalition board member. “Though food pantries have served as a constant safety net for Iowans in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, we have not fought hunger alone. Safety net programs like SNAP, especially the Emergency Allotments made available throughout the course of the pandemic, have been crucial in ensuring food security throughout our state. I wholeheartedly welcome the new increase in SNAP benefits, which will put more food on the table for those who need and deserve it.”

Since April 2020, SNAP program participants in Iowa have been receiving the maximum possible benefit amounts due to Emergency Allotments being issued by the USDA. This has led to a 100% increase in the total amount of SNAP benefits issued in the state. Emergency allotments will continue to be issued until the state lifts the emergency health declaration.

“While the USDA’s announcement is great news for people enrolled in SNAP, there are still many Iowans struggling with hunger and food insecurity who do not qualify for the program,” said Natalie Veldhouse, Policy Advocate at Common Good Iowa and chair of the Iowa Hunger Coalition. “We have also yet to see the impending result of ending Emergency Allotments that is sure to have a large impact on Iowans facing hunger and the nonprofit organizations that assist them. The pandemic has affirmed that safety net programs like SNAP are very effective in meeting the economic and health needs of people experiencing poverty.”

Help Advance Senate File 306

SF 306 exempts “nonprofit food banks” from the state sales tax, freeing up funds for these organizations to provide more food to people facing food insecurity. The bill defines a “nonprofit food bank” as:

an organization organized under chapter 50 and qualifying under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as an organization exempt from federal income tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code that maintains an established operation involving the provision of food or edible commodities or the products thereof on a regular basis to persons in need or to food pantries, soup kitchens, hunger relief centers, or other food or feeding centers that, as an integral part of their normal activities, provide meals or food on a regular basis to persons in need.

The fiscal note for an identical proposal that passed the House last session found that this exemption would lead to $206,000 saved by qualifying organizations in FY22 that could be directed back to purchasing more food.

This is not a large ask of the state, but would have a meaningful impact for qualifying nonprofit food banks, food pantries, anti-hunger organizations, and the people they assist every day.

A subcommittee has been assigned for SF 306, but a meeting has not yet been scheduled. Please reach out to the members of this subcommittee today and ask them to schedule a subcommittee meeting for SF 306.

Sen. Dan Dawson
dan.dawson@legis.iowa.gov

Sen. Janet Petersen
janet.petersen@legis.iowa.gov

Sen. Tim Goodwin
tim.goodwin@legis.iowa.gov

You can also call the Senate switchboard at (515) 281-3371 to leave a message.

Thank you for your continued advocacy!

Take Action and Oppose SSB 1125

A subcommittee meeting for SSB 1125 is scheduled for Monday, February 15, 2021 at 11:30am.

SSB 1125 is a bill in the Iowa Senate’s Commerce Committee. This is a bad bill that would create barriers for people accessing public assistance programs. At a time when too many Iowans are struggling to make ends meet, this bill is the last thing we need.

How You Can Take Action:

Senator Jason Schultz
jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov

Senator Liz Mathis
liz.mathis@legis.iowa.gov

Senator Zach Whiting
zach.whiting@legis.iowa.gov

More Information on SSB 1125

This bill would decrease access and kick people off the Food Assistance program by establishing an asset limit.

  • It would establish an asset limit for Food Assistance (SNAP) of $2,250 per household or $3,250 for elderly or disabled households. Households with more than one vehicle would be at risk of losing eligibility to Food Assistance benefits.
  • Having a vehicle can be the difference between finding employment or not, especially in rural areas of the state without public transit.
  • 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.

This bill would require both custodial and non-custodial parents to cooperate with the child support recovery unit to receive Food Assistance.

  • 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.
  • Custodial parents may have an informal arrangement, be a victim of domestic violence, or have other reasons why they have chosen not to seek child support payments from a non-custodial parent.
  • Taking away Food Assistance benefits from a non-custodial parent who cannot afford to pay child support does nothing to improve the financial situation of that parent and their child.
  • 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.

This bill would create a computerized verification and authentication system for all public assistance programs to be administered by a third-party vendor.

  • The state already has a system in place for income and identity verification. This bill would provide a contract to a private third-party vendor to administer this process instead.
  • This is costly and unnecessary. Last year, LSA estimated that the bill would cost the state over $4.5 million per year to administer.
  • A recent study on SNAP recipients in California found that for every one ineligible household screened out by verification checks, three eligible households also left the program.

This bill would require applicants to complete a computerized identity authentication process in order to access public assistance benefits.

  • This presents a significant access barrier to many people, especially those without internet access, limited credit history, or limited English proficiency.
  • This violates federal USDA FNS regulations concerning identity authentication for Food Assistance.

Speak Out Against SSB 1061

A subcommittee meeting for SSB 1061 is scheduled for today (Tuesday, January 26, 2021) at 2:00pm.

SSB 1061 is a bill in the Iowa Senate’s Labor & Business Relations Committee concerning electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards that could lead to profiling by law enforcement based on race and class.

We should be focusing on solutions to help people facing food insecurity in our state right now. Instead, this bill reinforces harmful myths about the Food Assistance/SNAP program and the people who participate in it.

Iowa’s criminal justice system has some of the greatest racial disparities in the nation, and this bill sends a message that counters the Governor’s focus on criminal justice reform.

How You Can Take Action Today:

Sen. Dennis Guth
dennis.guth@legis.iowa.gov

Sen. Pam Jochum
pam.jochum@legis.iowa.gov

Sen. Jeff Taylor
jeff.taylor@legis.iowa.gov

More Information on SSB 1061

This bill is a solution in search of a problem.

  • According to USDA, the prevalence of SNAP trafficking fraud is 1%.
  • Unauthorized possession of one EBT card, let alone three, is already defined as a “fraudulent practice” pursuant to Iowa code section 234.13.
  • “Fraudulent practice” can be a misdemeanor or felony, punishable with prison time, fines, and in the case of fraudulent practice related to the food assistance program, temporary suspension, up to a permanent ban from the Food Assistance program.
  • A law enforcement officer who has probable cause to believe a person is in unauthorized possession of an EBT card can choose to make a report to the department of inspections and appeals (DIA).
  • DIA’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT)/Program Integrity Unit conducts investigations related to the misuse and trafficking of EBT cards.

This bill could lead to profiling based on race and class.

  • Under this bill, law enforcement officers who have “probable cause” to believe an individual is in unauthorized possession of even one EBT card shall report both the person in possession of the card and person who is named on the card to the department of inspection and appeals. This bill does not define what would constitute “probable cause.”
  • There are a number of reasons that a person could legally be in possession of an EBT card that does not match the name on their ID.
  • This bill has the potential for racial bias and profiling of individuals by law enforcement officers. Iowa’s criminal justice system has some of the greatest racial disparities in the nation, and this bill sends a message that is counter-productive to the Governor’s focus on criminal justice reform.

You’re Invited: Food Insecurity Advocacy Webinar on January 22

Advocacy Training: Fighting Hunger and Food Insecurity in Iowa

Friday, January 22, 12:00pm-1:00pm
Facebook Event

The number of people experiencing food insecurity across Iowa has increased dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while federal and state responses have proven effective at increasing access to food for many in our state, there is still work to be done.

Join the Iowa Hunger Coalition and other anti-hunger groups on Friday, January 22, from 12:00pm-1:00pm for an online advocacy training to get involved in the fight to end food insecurity in Iowa!

Register to Attend
Learn from groups working to address hunger and food insecurity in Iowa about:

  • the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on hunger and food insecurity in our state
  • federal and state responses to food insecurity during the pandemic
  • basic information on nutrition programs such as Food Assistance (SNAP)
  • current legislative opportunities to address hunger and food insecurity in Iowa
  • how you can be an effective anti-hunger advocate

We hope you can join us in our fight to end hunger and food insecurity in Iowa.

Tell Iowa’s Senators to Support a 15% Increase to SNAP

Contact your Senators today and tell them to support a 15% increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the next federal pandemic relief bill!

Since the pandemic began, we have seen hunger and food insecurity rise at an alarming rate. Hundreds of thousands of Iowans are being forced to make gut-wrenching decisions on a daily basis, such choosing between paying rent or buying groceries, filling a prescription or paying the utility bill. Racial inequities are deepening, and right now, there is no end in sight for the economic crisis many struggling Iowans are facing.

Increasing SNAP benefits by 15% would raise monthly Food Assistance (SNAP) benefits by $25 on average per person for the next two years.

While there have been some positive steps taken by the government, like the issuing of Emergency Allotments to provide the maximum benefit amount to all Food Assistance program enrollees, this measure has not increased benefits for Iowans struggling the most who were already receiving the maximum benefit. Increasing SNAP by 15% ensures everyone receiving assistance will see an increase in the amount of benefits they receive.

SNAP is smart for business, too, and helps support the economy. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, every $1 in SNAP benefits yields $1.54 in economic stimulus. Increasing SNAP is a smart, effective policy, and the best federal anti-hunger program we have in our tool belt.

In 2009, Congress passed a 15% increase to SNAP to respond to the Great Recession, and research has shown the increase helped keep nearly one million people out of poverty in 2010 alone.

Please tell your Senators to support a 15% increase to SNAP today!

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Additional Resources

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

Proposed Change to SNAP Eligibility Would Impact Thousands of Iowans

The Iowa Hunger Coalition strongly opposes rolling back categorical eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known in Iowa as Food Assistance.

Categorical eligibility allows states to increase the income threshold for SNAP beyond the federal income limit of 130% of the federal poverty level (FPL). In Iowa, categorical eligibility allows the state to increase the income threshold for Food Assistance to 160% FPL.

Iowans who are currently making between 130-160% FPL and are enrolled in Food Assistance are at risk of losing their benefits. This amounts to an estimated 59,000 Iowans, 16% of all SNAP participants in the state. These individuals, and millions more across the country, would no longer be eligible to receive SNAP benefits because their income is too high.

This proposed change to categorical eligibility would also have a ripple effect on other programs, including free and reduced school lunch programs for students. An estimated 265,000 students across the nation would lose access to automatic eligibility for these programs due to the fact that they would no longer be SNAP participants.

Food banks, food pantries, local governments, and social service agencies can expect to see more people turning to them for assistance if this rule change is enacted. It would impact the health and nutrition of tens of thousands of Iowans and millions of Americans.

The proposed USDA rule change to categorical eligibility is harmful, regressive, and would threaten the health and well-being of millions of Americans.

Slashes to Iowa’s Food Assistance Program (SNAP) Budget would be devastating

The Iowa Hunger Coalition is deeply grieved and disheartened to see the proposed slashing of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the President’s Budget. These proposed cuts would reduce the program by about 1/3, reduce benefits of current recipients, deprive families of their right to choose what’s best for their families, harm local grocers and farmers, and increase food demand that Food Banks and Anti-Hunger Organizations would not be able to meet. The Food Assistance program is a successful and essential tool in the fight to end poverty, as well as generating positive economic activity in communities.

Food Assistance is providing food security for the most vulnerable Iowans, children, seniors, the disabled, and the working poor. Per USDA, nationally, nearly two-thirds of SNAP recipients are either disabled, elderly, or children. In Iowa, over 43% of those receiving Food Assistance are minors, while approximately 10% are seniors. Over the last several years, since the beginning of the economic recovery, the number of Iowans receiving SNAP benefits has declined steadily. Between December 2016 and December 2017, almost 20,000 Iowans who had been receiving Food Assistance benefits, progressed towards self-sufficiency and no longer had to depend on Food Assistance for food security. Per Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) data, in December 2017 the average monthly benefit per person was approximately $106.82. That equates to approximately $3.54 per day in a 30-day month and $1.18 per meal. The current Iowa household average benefit of $223.86 is a mere 26.5% of the USDA Low Cost Monthly plan amount of $843.40. Although modest, SNAP benefits are critically essential to a most basic human need, eating. Food Assistance is doing exactly what it is designed to do, helping recipients become self-sufficient.

Despite the growth and expansion seen in the programs and reach of the food banks and anti-hunger organizations, it would be impossible to accommodate the additional Iowans who would need support if these cuts were to be imposed. In 2013 when benefits were cut, Iowa anti-hunger organizations saw a 20% increase in need. Nutrition is a foundational element for health and success in every facet of life. Humans cannot function, learn, work, or advance without meaningful access to food. Food Assistance provides that access for those who need it most. Accordingly, the Iowa Hunger Coalition stands opposed to these cuts and asks that you contact your Congressional Representatives at (202) 221-3121 to voice your support for Food Assistance and opposition to the proposed cuts.

For more information:
Regenea A. Hurte, Iowa Hunger Coalition
IowaHungerCoalition@gmail.com, 515-505-8628