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Key lawmaker says House GOP won't advance ban on SNAP meat purchases

iowa capitol
Natalie Krebs
A key lawmaker says the Iowa House GOP will not advance a proposal that could have prevented the use of SNAP to buy meat and other foods.

A key Republican lawmaker said Tuesday the Iowa House GOP will not move forward with a proposal that could have prevented Iowans from using food assistance to buy meat and a lot of other foods.

Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, which is considering the bill. She said Republicans will amend the bill to try to ban the use of food assistance to buy soda with calories and candy.

“This is a nutritional program,” Meyer said. “We’re also paying for Medicaid. We’re also paying for health care. So why wouldn’t we, you know, provide nutritious foods with taxpayer dollars?”

She said the bill’s current language that seeks to restrict food assistance (SNAP) purchases to a list of foods eligiblefor the specialized Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is “far too severe.”

Changing what foods are eligible to purchase with SNAP requires permission from the federal government. Other states’ requests to restrict candy and soda purchases in the pastwere denied.

Iowa Hunger Coalition Chair Luke Elzinga said he will continue to oppose all limits on food purchases, but he’s glad the most severe restrictions won’t move forward.

He said he supports the bill’s provision that would put $1 million into the Double Up Food Bucks program, which creates an incentive for SNAP participants to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. But the bill makes that contingent on the federal government approving SNAP restrictions.

Elzinga is urging lawmakers to put $1 million into the program regardless of the federal government’s decision, as it could unlock an additional $3 million for the program from other sources.

“The number one reason SNAP participants said they couldn’t have a healthier diet was the high cost of healthy food,” he said. “And so by increasing those benefits through the Double Up Food Bucks program if people are purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, we really think that is a positive approach that the state could take, rather than this restrictive approach.”

Elzinga said he is very concerned about other parts of the bill, including an asset test for SNAP and proposed work and training requirements for SNAP and Medicaid.

“We think it’s a really misguided and harmful bill that would result in Iowans being kicked off the program,” he said.

The bill would require the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services to conduct an asset test on all members of a SNAP applicant’s household, which Elzinga said could jeopardize benefits for some families that own more than one car. It would also require more identity and eligibility checks.

The bill would direct the state to seek a federal waiver to require at least 20 hours per week of work or “community engagement activities” for some Iowans in the Medicaid expansion population. It also appears to require participation in an employment and training program for SNAP recipients.

Meyer said the bill, which has 39 Republican co-sponsors, will likely see a lot of changes. She said ultimately, she wants to ensure the people who are getting public assistance are truly eligible for it.

“We just want to make sure we’re being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar,” Meyer said. “But we realize there are people that need a safety net, and we want to take care of them.”

The first public hearingon the bill was scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 26, at 11:30 at the Iowa Capitol.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter