This is a story I don’t understand, so I’m sharing and hoping someone can explain my questions. Iowa is a red state. The legislature is about to make it harder for poor people to gain access to federal aid for food, a program called SNAPor . Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal government’s most effective food assistance pipeline. The legislature knows that about 300,000 Iowans rely on SNAP to feed themselves and their family. But they think that Iowa can save money by reducing SNAP beneficiaries, also that getting food aid reduces the incentive to work.

So here are my questions:

How can people be so cruel?

Why do these legislators get re-elected?

As a reader of this blog, you will not be surprised to see which billionaires are behind this effort to take food access away from hungry families.

Kyle Swenson of the Washington Post reported:

The state legislature, with the support of the Republican supermajority, was poised to approve some of the nation’s harshest restrictions on SNAP. They include asset tests and new eligibility guidelines. By the state’s own estimate, Iowa will need to spend nearly $18 million in administrative costs during the first three years — to take in less federal money. The bill’s backers argue the steps would save the state money long term and cut down on “SNAP fraud.”

The measure is part of a broader national crackdown on SNAP, the federal program at the heart of the nation’s welfare system. The proposed legislation was not a homegrown effort but the product of a network of conservative think tanks pushing similar SNAP restrictions in Kentucky, Kansas, Wisconsin and other states. But experts say Iowa’s represents the boldest attack yet on SNAP, and Republicans in Congress have signaled a similar readiness to impose limits on federal food assistance.

“There are pockets where you are seeing a movement toward more restrictions to kick people off SNAP,” said Diane Schanzenbach, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. “But the SNAP program is really well-designed. It’s effective and efficient, and it does a tremendous amount of good. Generally, proposals to change it usually are going to make it worse…”

Iowa’s food bank operators say any new restrictions on food stamps are likely to fuel a surge in demand. But they are not sure whether they can absorb it because they are still reeling from a decision last year to scale back SNAP benefits.

When the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020, the federal government temporarily raised its allotment of SNAP dollars for the 41 million Americans in the program. Then in April 2022, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) decided to end those emergency SNAP benefits a year early, leaving the 286,874 Iowans with less money each month for food.

Nonprofits also felt the impact when the federal money disappeared. Data collected by the food banks show the smaller SNAP payouts drove more Iowas to seek their help than at any point during the pandemic emergency. After April 2022, the 15 food banks that fall under the umbrella of the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) began seeing “numbers that we hadn’t seen for the past two years,” said Daniel Beck, the network’s data coordinator.

“When people get more SNAP, they don’t need food pantries as much,” Beck said. “That just a fact…”

Iowa ended 2022 with a general-fund budget surplus of $1.91 billion. But at the start of the 2023 legislative session, Republicans made clear that limiting access to SNAP was a priority because of cost concerns.

“It’s these entitlement programs,” House Speaker Pat Grassley (R), grandson of Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R), told reporters in January. “They’re the ones that are growing within the budget, and are putting pressure on us being able to fund other priorities. And so I think it’s time for us to take a serious look at what they are.”
If budget concerns were not driving the legislation, political opportunity was. In November 2022, Republicans expanded their majorities in both statehouse chambers.

In January, 39 Republican House members sponsored a bill that would require an asset test, meaning families and individuals are barred from accessing SNAP, Medicaid, and other assistance programs if the value of their cars, farm equipment or other items are too high. The measure would also create more paperwork for recipients, and ban those using SNAP from buying candy and soda, as well as fresh meat, white bread, baked beans or American cheese, among other items. None of the 39 legislators, including Grassley, responded to requests for comment.

The proposal’s backers argued that SNAP assistance de-incentivized families from working or from taking on more hours at the jobs they already had. They also pressed the case that the current program would eliminate “SNAP fraud.”
Republican supporters point to Iowa’s SNAP error rate of 11.81 percent in 2019, which the state was fined for, even though it was in line with the national standard in 2021. (The Agriculture Department warns that the error rate is “not a fraud rate” because it also includes underpayments and eligibility mistakes.)

Northwestern’s Schanzenbach noted that other states are moving toward fewer eligibility requirements, not more, because around 40 percent of SNAP recipients nationally are either elderly or disabled. “They have stable incomes then, so there is just not really much of an upside to having them certify more often,” she said.
Eventually, Iowa legislators stripped the food restrictions from the SNAP bill after a number of prominent players in state business — including the Iowa Beverage Association, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and Tyson Foods — lobbied against the bill.

But the version of the proposal that the legislature would later vote on kept the assets test, tasked the state with contracting with a third-party vendor to conduct rigorous identity verification and authentication on recipients, raised the monthly income threshold of SNAP participants to 160 percent of the federal poverty level for households and gave recipients only 10 days to respond to paperwork mistakes or discrepancies before they are cut from the program.

Enacting the bill is expected to cost Iowa more than $17 million in the first three years, far more than the $2.2 million the state spends each year to administer SNAP. (The federal government funds SNAP and splits administrative costs 50-50 with the state. Last year, Iowa received $60.4 million in federal SNAP funds).

Most of that amount would go toward hiring workers and installing systems to process, authenticate and monitor compliance.
Opponents in the Iowa Capitol and beyond wonder if the expense is really necessary to police the rolls of a federal program that for many recipients is still not enough to live on….

As the SNAP bill wove through the statehouse, a long list of interest groups came out against it, including the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, the Iowa Catholic Conference, and the Iowa Farmers Union.

Its biggest proponent was the Opportunity Solutions Project, a Florida think tank that has successfully shepherded similar bills through other statehouses.

The nonprofit says it shares “high-quality research and data analysis with state lawmakers to ensure new laws are carefully crafted to expand opportunity and freedom for all.” According to OpenSecret, the group had registered 57 active lobbyists in 22 states in 2022.

The OSP is the lobbying arm of the Foundation for Government Accountability. Both groups are run by Maine state legislator Tarren Bragdon, who started the FGA in 2011 with three employees and less than $60,000 in the group’s bank account. According to tax records, that money was a grant from the State Policy Network, a major funder for right-wing think tanks and organizations that has been linked to conservative superdonors such as Charles Koch and the DeVos family. OSP did not respond to calls for comment.