Here’s What You Need to Know

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lowa House Republicans this month drafted House File 3 — a bill that places strict limits on the food items SNAP recipients could use to purchase their benefits — including white bread, fresh meats and sliced ​​cheese. Many believe the new law would place undue financial pressure on Iowa’s most vulnerable communities.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by 39 Republicans, would require SNAP recipients to have a more restrictive list of foods they can buy that would mirror those approved for the current program for women, babies and children (WIC) of the state. It would also require an asset limit for SNAP participants and Medicare beneficiaries would be required to work at least 20 hours per week to receive benefits.

House File 3 is facing significant resistance from state Democrats and hunger groups who say the bill will negatively impact those struggling with rising food costs and still reeling from pandemic-induced inflation and job losses.

“I’ve told Iowa state lawmakers that we have food banks and food pantries that are breaking records in terms of the number of people turning to them for help,” he said. said Luke Elzinga, president of the Iowa Hunger Coalition. a non-profit organization that advocates for fair food policies, tells TIME. “At the same time, the number of Iowans enrolled in SNAP is actually at its lowest level in 14 years.”

“It tells me that the state needs to do more to make sure SNAP is accessible to people facing food insecurity, and House File 3 seems to be moving in the opposite direction,” he adds.

Restrictions in the house file 3

SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the largest federal program that helps low-income Americans afford food through fixed monthly budgets that they can redeem at grocery stores.

The restrictive list of foods offered in House File 3 is copied from the WIC, which was created to support motherhood and young child health. Some experts say the WIC plan is not suitable for all SNAP enrollees due to its wide range of demographics.

“If you’re pregnant, nursing, postpartum, an infant, or a child under five, you have very specific nutritional needs,” says Lauren Au, a nutrition professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies nutrition policy.

Au adds that SNAP “provides such a small amount of food funding.” As a supplementary nutritional aid, it is not designed to be a household’s only source of food, so it should not be treated as such by the policy.

WIC restrictions prevented Iowan SNAP recipients from purchasing things such as non-whole grains, fresh meats, spices, oils, canned fruits or vegetables, and other staples. from the kitchen.

“If you’re living in poverty and using a program — and there’s already so much stigma around SNAP — being told ‘we’re going to control what food you can get’ is incredibly detrimental to people’s mental health,” says Elzinga.

He says the restrictions don’t take into account food allergies, medical conditions requiring a specific diet, religious restrictions or cultural preferences. “I know a woman with an eating disorder who uses SNAP,” says Elzinga. He adds how a restrictive diet affects some people.

“You can get 100% whole wheat pasta, but not rice noodles. There is brown rice, but no white rice,” says Elzinga.

Wealth restrictions in House File 3 would mean that families who have between $2,750 and $4,250 in assets or savings would no longer be eligible for any benefits, which critics say discourages people from growing their savings. It would particularly affect households that own more than one car, which is common in rural areas where public transport is poor, and in large families.

Au says comparing the ability to acquire food versus the possessions a person has doesn’t mean “there’s so much more history than you might not know.”

On the other hand, the bill reserves $1 million for the state’s Double Up Food Bucks program, which incentivizes SNAP recipients to get more fruits and vegetables. Elzinga’s coalition supports this funding, but wants it in a separate bill without WIC and asset restrictions.

The reasoning of the legislature

Sami Scheetz, the freshman Democratic representative for Iowa’s 78th district, is a vocal opponent of House File 3, or as he calls it, a “truly awful bill.”

“Iowans have been struggling for years. First, the pandemic has destroyed our economy, and even to this day we have record inflation that we haven’t seen in 40 years, driving up the cost of basic things like food and gas,” Scheetz told TIME. “To make it harder and more restrictive for people to get the basic necessities they need for themselves and their families to survive… that’s wrong.”

House Republicans say the proposal — currently under discussion in subcommittees — would help cut costs. “It’s these rights programs. They are the ones who are growing under budget and forcing us to fund other priorities,” House Speaker Pat Grassley told KCCI, a Des Moines news outlet.

In September, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds proudly announced that the state had a budget surplus of $1.91 billion, a far cry from Grassley’s greedy rhetoric.

Scheetz counters that the federal government, not Iowa, pays 100% of SNAP’s food relief costs. The federal and state governments split the administrative costs of SNAP 50/50, so any administrative work that would be required to implement the bill would, in theory, just add costs to Iowa, Elzinga said.

SNAP’s administrative costs in Iowa have been fairly constant for more than a decade, another reason why it’s unusual for the program to seek cost savings. In 2009, Iowa spent $24,690,105 — compared to 2020 when the state spent $22,355,466 — according to Iowa Hunger Coalition data.

“Not only is it philosophically and morally wrong, it’s bad for current Iowa agriculture,” says Scheetz. Iowa is one of the top states in the country for agricultural production, ranking first in corn, soybean and pork sales.

Of Iowa’s 55 major lobby groups, 22 have publicly opposed the bill, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Save the Children Action Network and Tyson Foods. 31 factions have not yet reached a decision and only two factions support the bill.

The future of House File 3

Over the years, federal and other state policymakers have floated similar ideas to restrict certain foods from SNAP benefits, but the legislation rarely passes because research shows it tends to financially harm SNAP recipients. and in the field of health.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees SNAP and must approve any changes. Elzinga explains that the USDA is cracking down on SNAP, as it did in 2015 and 2018 when Maine’s attempts to remove soda and candy from the SNAP food list were rejected. He predicts the department is unlikely to pass House File 3, even if it comes out of the General Assembly.

“I think the message this bill sends to low-income Iowans is that the state doesn’t trust you to make your own food choices for your family,” says Elzinga. “It reinforces a false narrative that the public aid poor are defrauding the government, and that’s just not the reality.”

Correction, January 21

The original version of this story misquoted Sami Scheetz about how long Iowa hasn’t had inflation this high. It’s 40, not 14.

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