Republican lawmakers propose new system to check food stamp, Medicaid eligibility

DES MOINES — Republicans in the Iowa legislature are proposing an asset test and a new system to conduct frequent income checks for Iowans who’re enrolled in Medicaid or receiving what are commonly known as food stamps.

The 34 Republicans in the Senate approved a bill last week to take those steps. Senator Jeff Edler, a Republican from State Center, is chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “We have a responsibility as elected officials to ensure that tax dollars are being responsibly allocated,” Edler said. “The use of technology for real time verification is critical.”

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, first proposed more frequent checks for Iowans receiving government assistance in 2019. “If they do not not meet the standard and they are of higher assets or higher income or have won the lottery,” Schultz said. “I mean that came up in previous years.”

Under the Senate-passed bill, Iowans with more than $15,000 in assets that can quickly be converted to cash, like stocks or a savings account, would no longer be eligible for food stamps. A vehicle or a house would not be included in the asset calculation. A bill under consideration in the House sets up the same asset test, but also includes a proposed ban on using food stamps to buy pop or candy.

Democrats oppose the changes. Senator William Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said some Iowans qualified to receive food and health care benefits will be kicked off the programs because they won’t have enough time to re-confirm that they’re eligible. “This is just furthering a fallacy that people are too lazy to work and that they’re on the public dole and, man, we’re feeding kids when we shouldn’t be,” Dotzler said.

Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, a Democrat from Waukee, cited an analysis indicating an estimated 600 Iowa children would lose health care coverage if the bill becomes law. “It’s really, really important that children do not lose access to these vital programs because these are significant changes,” Trone-Garriott said, “huge changes to the process.”

The House bill on this topic is eligible for debate in the House Appropriations Committee. It would require most adults receiving food stamps or enrolled in Medicaid to work or volunteer 20 hours a week. Iowans who are unemployed, taking care of a family member, pregnant or physically or mentally unable to work would be exempt from the work requirement. Those work requirements are not included in the Senate bill.