Iowa Republicans chart new course on state aid requirements

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Ornamental decorations on the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from the outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Attempts in previous years to add requirements for Iowans who receive public benefits such as Medicaid and food assistance failed to pass both houses of the Iowa legislature .

A renewed effort is underway this year, with a new approach: Instead of pushing for one or two big bills dealing with public assistance programs, state Republicans have split the myriad proposals into one. multitude of separately executed bills.

As of Tuesday, three such bills were scheduled for subcommittee hearings at Iowa House, though one was canceled.

Proponents of the myriad bills sometimes point to a $1.8 million fine imposed by the federal government when it was revealed that Iowa had a 10% error rate in its distribution of aid benefits food from the federal program known as SNAP.

“We just broke it down into eight manageable pieces,” said Iowa Rep. Ann Meyer R-Fort Dodge, chair of the House committee through which the bills will go.

“We need to make sure that if people are eligible for the backstop that they get it, and people who are not eligible, we don’t spend taxpayers’ money on it. So it’s just fixing that system to make sure everyone is eligible.

Critics of these types of bills generally fear that adding additional requirements or hurdles will prevent needy Iowans from getting the benefits that will help them.

“I don’t think this bill can be implemented in a way that doesn’t deprive children of food,” said Luke Elzinga, communications and advocacy manager for the Des Moines Area Religious Council. , an interfaith network that runs a pantry network. , said during one of Tuesday’s subcommittee hearings.

Elzinga was talking about House Study Bill 505, which would require Iowans receiving child support to also cooperate with the agency that oversees child support payments.

This bill was temporarily tabled as lawmakers on the subcommittee determined it needed to better define the extent to which individuals are required to work with child support recovery before potentially losing support benefits. food.

“I have no problem wanting parents who owe child support to cooperate in getting SNAP benefits, but if we can restrict that language,” said Iowa Rep. Kristin Sunde, D-West Monks.

Earlier Tuesday, a separate subcommittee discussed House study Bill 502, which would direct the state’s Department of Human Services to implement a new computer system that would allow it to track in time real eligibility for the assistance program.

“The purpose of these bills is to improve systems,” Andy Conlin, a free enterprise lobbyist and national government advocacy organization limited to the Opportunity Solutions Project, said during the court hearing. subcommittee. “The key to a good program is integrity.”

Advocacy groups like the Catholic Conference of Iowa and the American Heart Association have expressed concern about the addition of what they described as more bureaucratic steps or hurdles preventing low-income Iowans from get the services they need.

“I think everyone here wants to make sure our dollars are available for everyone who needs them,” said Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids. “I have enough to worry about (with the bill).”

Other legislation on the subject includes:

• House Study Bill 508, which requires the state to perform asset tests on all adults in a household in which a person receives assistance.

• House Study Bill 504, which requires a claimant to complete a computerized identity authentication process.

• House Study Bill 503, which requires the state Department of Social Services to refer any cases of suspected fraud to the state Department of Inspections and Appeals.

• House Study Bill 507, which requires the state Department of Social Services to search the personal information of all applicants for public assistance in all other local, state, and federal public records.

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