Iowa lawmakers consider testing assets for food aid

Iowans are expected to undergo an asset test to receive food assistance and other state benefits under a proposal moving into the Iowa House.

Below Internal Study Bill 508, the Department of Social Services would be required to perform an “asset test” on applicants for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The department would account for the applicant’s bank accounts, cash on hand, and lottery or gambling income. The department would also account for any real estate, other than the primary residence, and any other personal property, excluding “personal effects, household items and a vehicle”.

That would be more restrictive than the current system, which allows Iowans to qualify for SNAP if they are enrolled in other public assistance programs.

A lobbyist for the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability, Scott Centorino, spoke at several subcommittees on Wednesday. The group advocates for welfare reform, including measures to link food aid to work requirements.

Centorino told Iowa lawmakers the change would fill in the gaps and align the state with federal guidelines for SNAP. The goal, he said, was to ensure the benefits only went to those who really needed them.

“It’s also a work-friendly measure because you’re removing able-bodied people who can and must work, who are in the program despite being above the asset limit,” Centorino said.

Opponents of the proposal have argued that the change would require additional red tape and hardship for people who are already struggling. Peter Hurd, lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, noted that many SNAP recipients in Iowa are employed.

“About a third of people who get SNAP benefits actually have two or more people working in the household, so it’s not just a non-working-class issue,” he said. “It’s a working class problem.”

Rep. Ann Meyer and Rep. Tom Jeneary, both Republicans, endorsed the proposal for committee consideration. Democratic Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell did not endorse the proposal.

Another bill, Internal Study Bill 507, also crossed the subcommittee on Wednesday. This proposal would direct DHS to use federal, state, and local public records to determine eligibility.

The bills are part of a seven-part proposal to change how DHS determines eligibility for public assistance. Republican supporters of the proposal say new rules are needed to improve Iowa’s error rate, though DHS officials say the error rate has already improved significantly in recent years.

House Speaker Pat Grassley told reporters last week that the changes would also affect the state’s “social safety net,” which some lawmakers say prevents people from taking jobs.

“We don’t want the government to be the reason people think they shouldn’t enter the workforce,” Grassley said.

Meyer, chairman of the House Human Resources Committee, told reporters that the package of bills was unlikely to make it to committee next week. Several of the proposals are stalled in subcommittee, pending further discussion by lawmakers.

Read more: Republicans seek to change eligibility for public assistance

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