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Anti-hunger advocates urge Reynolds to veto public assistance limits

anti-hunger advocates speak at a news conference at the iowa capitol
Katarina Sostaric
Anti-hunger advocates urged Gov. Kim Reynolds to veto public assistance limits at the Iowa Capitol Tuesday.

Anti-hunger advocates are urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to veto limits on public assistance that were approved by Republican lawmakers.

The bill would deny food assistance, also known as SNAP, to households with more than $15,000 in assets, except for a home, a car of any value, and a second car worth up to $10,000.

The state would also conduct real-time checks of Iowans’ eligibility for public assistance. Opponents of the bill say paperwork challenges will cause people to lose SNAP benefits and health care assistance through Medicaid.

Ken Peterson is a veteran who lives in Des Moines and is fighting cancer. He is unable to work and is supported by social security disability insurance. At a news conference Tuesday, he said he relies on food pantries and $23 a month in SNAP benefits to eat.

“I am here today to ask Gov. Reynolds to please veto Senate File 494,” Peterson said. “If this bill does pass, I worry I’ll lose my SNAP benefits altogether. If this bill does pass, it will make it much harder for me to reapply for benefits.”

He said he recently completed his annual recertification for SNAP and Medicaid, and he needed help getting all of the documents that were requested.

“I had to go to several places by walking and by bus to get everything ready,” Peterson said. “It took me two weeks to do. It takes a lot of energy to do an annual recertification. I can’t imagine how exhausting it would be to have to recertify more frequently. To have to gather even more documentation than I do now would be a burden.”

The nonpartisanLegislative Services Agency estimated the bill would cause 8,000 Iowans to lose Medicaid coverage and 2,800 households would lose food assistance “due to discrepancies.”

It’s not clear how many people might lose SNAP benefits under the proposed asset test.

Advocates for low-income Iowans said the bill would deny food to Iowans at a time when SNAP enrollment and fraud is low, but food bank use is breaking records.

Matt Unger, the CEO of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, said their network of food pantries helped a record of nearly 1,500 individuals in March who had never come to a food pantry before. And they recently had the second and fourth busiest single days in the organization’s nearly 50-year history.

“If you aren’t alarmed by these numbers, you should be,” Unger said.

He said he doesn’t understand why the legislature is willing to give state-funded education savings accounts for private school tuition to families of any income level, while making it more difficult for families making a maximum of 160% of the federal poverty level to access food assistance.

“Like it or not, whether their families are kicked off the program or their families simply never apply because it’s too difficult and cumbersome, signing this bill means children who need it and deserve it will not have the food they need,” Unger said.

Natalie Veldhouse with Common Good Iowa said the bill sends a message that the state is willing to spend money to take food and health care away from Iowans.

“Poverty is not some unfortunate accident, nor is it a personal failing,” Veldhouse said. “Hunger is a policy choice, and it’s being made right in front of our eyes with Senate File 494.”

Under the bill, the state would spend money on IT upgrades, more than 200 new employees, and likely a contract with a private company to conduct eligibility checks and to work on child support recovery. The LSA estimated that starting in fiscal year 2027, the state would save $8.2 million per year, largely due to people being removed from Medicaid.

The bill would save an estimated $42 million per year in federal funding, as SNAP is fully funded by the federal government, and Medicaid costs are shared with the state.

Reynolds could sign the bill into law any time in the coming days or weeks.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter