Iowa Senate GOP votes to hire private firm to check welfare eligibility

DES MOINES — Republicans in the Iowa Senate want the state to hire a business to determine whether Iowans who get government food assistance or Medicaid coverage are eligible for welfare benefits.

Supporters of the plan say a private firm doing this work in other states can quickly flag problems, so the State of Iowa doesn’t extend welfare benefits to people who are not U.S. citizens or people who’re hiding assets or double-dipping by getting benefits in another state.

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said he’s been working on this concept for three years, to deal with a 10 percent error rate.

“It’s time to do something about it,” Schultz said.

Schultz pointed to estimates suggesting the state could save $10 million a year with the private company doing welfare eligibility checks rather than the 500 state employees who do it today using an ancient computer system.

Democrats in the Senate criticized the plan, arguing the state would recoup far more by going after tax fraud.

“Go just as aggressively against the tax cheats who owe us money,” said Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque.

Jochum also said businesses that fail to pay all they owe to workers should be investigated.

“We lose $600 million each year in this state on wage theft alone,” Jochum said, “and yet that bill’s been buried for years.”

Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, accused Schultz of “grinding away” at the poor.

“When it comes to poor people, by God, we’ve got to squeeze ’em,” Bolkcom said. “…This is a mean bill. It’s going to save a few bucks by taking food out of people’s mouths.”

Senator Schultz, who said at the start that he’d been called “Dr. Evil” for proposing the bill, replied to Democrats in his closing remarks on the legislation.

“You don’t want limits on health care. I mean, your number one presidential candidate right now is an avowed socialist…I mean, you say you’re against fraud, but really you’re not against fraud,” Schultz said. “You want to give it to them anyway (with) Medicare for All.’”

Senate Democrats shouted their objections to that characterization and there was a brief time-out in the debate. A few minutes later, Schultz tiptoed up to another barb.

“Oh, I’m guessing the whole Andrew Yang Universal Income line ain’t gonna go either,” Schultz said.

The Senate’s bill now goes to the Republican-led House for consideration.

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