Iowa Republicans Dicking Around With Food Stamps For Jesus
While the nation was paying attention to Iowa's dysfunctional caucus last week, the state's Republican-controlled legislature was working on some important legislation, like a bill to allow breweries in the state to purchase hard liquor, as long as it's used to create canned cocktails for the good of all. The Cedar Rapids Gazette informs us that important bill was introduced the day after the Iowa Brewer's Guild hosted a reception for state lawmakers, so let's hear it for the tradition of citizen outreach to let elected officials know what matters to constituents.
In addition to doing regulatory favors for brewpub hipsters, members of the Lege also had a thought for their less affluent constituents, and that thought mostly involved coming up with new ways of making it harder for people to qualify for food stamps (formally, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). You see, Fox News says there's too much waste and fraud in the SNAP program, and so Iowa Republicans need to add tougher eligibility requirements.
Not that some of the changes the Iowa legislature is talking about make a hell of a lot of sense!
The Gazette reports the bill, "House File 2030," would require all Iowans receiving public assistance -- not just SNAP -- to verify their eligibility for the program four times a year instead of once, as is done under the current system. That just makes good sense to state Sen. Jason Schultz (R), the chair of the Labor and Business Relations Committee. Last year, he said he supported the proposal because it would result in "tens of millions of dollars in savings." But now he has a slightly different take, insisting the new rules would bring "tens of millions of dollars in efficiencies." Which must be equally good, although we suspect you don't need to show your math to claim "efficiencies" instead of savings.
Not surprisingly, the proposed change is being opposed by people who aren't paid by Americans for Prosperity or "Iowans for Tax Relief," because if you quadruple the number of eligibility reviews, you're going to need a lot more people to process the paperwork. Iowa's Medicaid director, Michael Randol, told a state House subcommittee in late January that the state would need to hire between 250 and 280 new employees to handle all the new paperwork. Another witness at the hearing, Iowa Behavior Health Association lobbyist Amy Campbell, said the savings would likely only amount to about $30,000 a year, but the increased labor costs would come to some $3 million a year.
Why, that doesn't sound efficient at all!
But the best argument came from Charlie Wishman, a lobbyist for AFSCME, the union that represents public employees who are out there bustin' their balls for you doing all the shit work you take for granted. Wishman, well aware of just how much Republicans hate the union, called the bill an "AFSCME jobs bill." (The Gazette helpfully notes that despite the potential for new members, AFSCME opposes the proposal.)
The House and Senate versions of the bill would require an all-new computer system to verify applicant eligibility, supposedly to make sure nobody's double-dipping by getting benefits in more than one location. Bit of a problem with that, according to Dave Stone, a lobbyist for the United Way of Central Iowa:
[Stone] presented data from the National Accuracy Clearinghouse, which would do the verification, showing that in the five states participating at this time, there was dual participation — one person claiming benefits in two jurisdictions — an average of 0.13 percent of the time. Applying that to Iowa, which has 318,000 people on food stamps, Stone said that would equate to 413 cases, or 206 Iowans dually enrolled in public assistance.
"There are better ways to spend tax money," Stone said.
The Gazette reports that, for SNAP at least, the eligibility changes are mandated by Trump's 2018 farm bill; it's not clear, however, whether that applies to the measures aimed at scouring applicants' bank and other records, the ridiculous requirement to verify eligibility four times a year, or both. In any case, the outcome is pretty clear: As with work requirements and other hurdles for public assistance, a lot of people will lose their benefits because of paperwork errors, or just decide to skip it altogether because it's so much trouble to get off work every three months to go down to an office and prove you're really poor enough. So yeah, "efficiencies."
In a sly commentary on just how fucked this all is, Gazette columnist Todd Dorman notes that the average monthly SNAP benefit for Iowans is a lavish $112.09 a month, and that the household average is a sumptuous $231 annually.
He also points out, earlier in the column, that the people looking to push poor families off food assistance get a paltry per diem of "$169 daily for expenses, such as food and lodging" during the legislative session.
But they deserve it because they work so hard, and you can't count on an industry lobbyist taking you to dinner every night, now can you?
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