A state wants to cut spending on food stamps. Their plan: ban fresh meat, flour and butter.
A food stamp battle is brewing in Iowa, where Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill that would ban people who receive federal nutritional services from using them to purchase a variety of groceries, including fresh meat, butter and flour.
The bill, dubbed House File 3, was introduced by House Speaker Pat Grassley earlier this month. The lawmaker, whose grandfather is Senator Chuck Grassley, told CBS2Iowa that the bill is needed to cut spending from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and free up funds for other priorities.
SNAP is funded entirely by the US Department of Agriculture, a federal agency, although the states bear some of the administrative costs of running the eligible resident program.
The Iowa measure comes as US food stamps have swollen during the pandemic. By October, 42 million people were receiving food stamps — an increase of about 14% from before the health crisis, according to the latest available data.
In Congress, Republicans have often targeted SNAP for cutting costs, including a push during the Trump administration to add work requirements for food stamp recipients.
“If you look at costs, if you want to see real budget impact, what’s really challenging in the budget for public or private education, whatever it is, it’s these entitlement programs,” Grassley told CBS2Iowa. “They’re the ones growing within budget and putting pressure on us to be able to fund other priorities.”
$2 billion surplus
Iowa had a $2 billion state budget surplus last year, and the state cut its corporate tax rate from 9.8% to 8.4%, according to the Iowa Gazette. In September, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said “our fiscal health is strong” as he touted the state’s budget surplus.
Grassley’s bill would limit food stamp purchases to foods approved by another program called Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a supplemental assistance program aimed at addressing nutritional deficiencies for pregnant, lactating or postpartum women and children up to age 5 to fix .
The program is restrictive because it aims to ensure access to foods like milk and whole grains, but many who qualify for WIC are also eligible for food stamps, giving them a wider range of foods.
The bill is scheduled to be discussed in a subcommittee on January 26. The Iowa House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, while its governor is also a member of the GOP.
Anti-hunger advocates in Iowa are opposing the SNAP proposal, saying it would increase hunger and hardship among the state’s residents.
“SNAP recipients could no longer purchase meat, except for certain types of canned tuna and salmon,” the Iowa Hunger Coalition said in a statement criticizing the bill. The group said people with food stamps spend about $1 out of $5 on meat, poultry and seafood, making it the top food category purchased by SNAP recipients.
Other foods that would no longer qualify for grocery stamp purchases include: butter, flour, white rice, white bread, sliced cheese, cooking oil, herbs, spices, and coffee and tea, the Iowa Hunger Coalition said.
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The bill would also set a net worth limit for receiving food stamps in Iowa at $2,750, meaning individuals whose net worth exceeds that threshold would not be eligible for SNAP benefits. If one person in the household is disabled or over the age of 60, the cap would increase to $4,250.
That would put two-vehicle households at particular risk, since the value of two cars could easily exceed $2,750, the Iowa Hunger Coalition said.
“Having a vehicle can make the difference between finding employment or not, especially in rural areas of the state with no public transportation,” the group noted. “These policies would keep Iowans in poverty, not help them.”