Work requirements for assistance programs considered

DES MOINES - Work requirements and other stipulations for some Iowa recipients of Medicaid services and food assistance programs are being considered by Iowa lawmakers.

Myriad legislative proposals were presented this week at the Iowa Capitol, including a number during a flurry of subcommittee meetings on Thursday.

Many of the bills were introduced by Jason Schultz, a Republican in the Iowa Senate from Schleswig, and written with the guidance of a pair of national conservative think tanks, the Opportunity Solutions Project and the Foundation for Government Accountability.

“I hear constantly from constituents who are frustrated,” Schultz told reporters after the meetings. “They feel that they’re going to work every day, paying taxes, these taxes are going to people who are not going to work and could.”

Schultz-led Senate panels on Thursday gave initial approval to one bill that would require any Iowan on the food assistance program known as SNAP or food stamps be current on child support payments, and another that aims to guide jobless food assistance recipients with school-aged children toward programs designed to connect them with a job.

Opponents of the child support bill expressed concerns with withholding food assistance for any low-income Iowan, even one who is behind on child support payments.

“Taking away food assistance would prevent them from meeting basic needs,” said MaryNelle Trefz, with the nonprofit Child and Family Policy Center. “And it may make it more challenging for that person to make their child support payments.”

Schultz said he considered the proposal “a relatively minor ask of the taxpayer,” referring to the taxpayer funding that supports the food assistance program.

During discussion on the bill to install work requirements for food assistance recipients, Schultz said he is open to a program touted by the United Way that aims to help Iowans on assistance programs get job training for Iowans on assistance programs. Schultz approved the bill as written but said he was open to amending it to create language to include the United Way program.

“If we can expand this program to every community college and nonprofits, we can specifically target the SNAP population to get the skills they need and better training to get the jobs they need,” said Dave Stone, with the United Way of Central Iowa.

A third bill, which would have required Iowans enrolled in the state’s version of Medicaid expansion to work or volunteer 20 hours per week, was shelved after Schultz said it could not yet be determined if it would apply to any Iowans. Because Iowa’s Medicaid expansion applied specifically to individuals with income between 100 percent and 133 percent of the federal poverty level, those individuals presumably already have a job since they have income.