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Bill Requires State Agency To Double Check That Iowans Are Eligible For Public Assistance

John Pemble
IPR file photo
Iowa Capitol

Under a proposal moving ahead in the Iowa Senate, the Department of Human Services would take extra steps to confirm the eligibility of people receiving Medicaid and other forms of public assistance. The bill (SSB 3068) requires the agency to adopt a computer system to search state and federal databases for unreported income and other assets.

DHS would be required to investigate discrepancies, but if a person receiving assistance fails to respond to questions about their eligibility, their benefits could be terminated.

Supporters of the measure said more oversight is needed to detect potential cases of fraud and abuse. Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said outside companies offer systems that can automate the process.

“We’ll use technology to remove from the process those whose situations haven’t changed and only check those where something popped up,” Schultz said following a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

In past years, Schultz has introduced legislation aimed at reducing enrollment in public assistance programs. The goal of this bill, he said, is not to cut state spending but to create a more accurate list of discrepancies for DHS staffers to investigate.

“I’ll admit this is a change in my mindset from last year,” Schultz said. “My motives were different. I was looking to shrink and cause efficiencies in government. This is a better service.”

But opponents of the bill said the system would make it harder for people to maintain access to DHS services. The bill requires the agency to contact program participants when differences are found between their enrollment information and data identified through other sources. Those findings can be disputed, but Mary Nelle Trefz of the Child and Family Policy Center said the review process leaves people vulnerable to false alarms and paperwork mistakes.

“Kids in that household, because a piece of paper got missed in the mail or there was some sort of discrepancy, they would lose their food assistance as well,” she said. “So there’s no way to implement this without taking away food assistance from kids.”

A similar proposal in the Iowa House of Representatives that would require DHS to make quarterly eligibility checks on people enrolled in public assistance programs (HF 2030) was tabled by a subcommittee Tuesday morning.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa