March 31, 2023

Food assistance programs brought up at legislative gathering

Dunwell says amendment would only prohibit candy, non-zero calorie drinks

Rep. Jon Dunwell speaks with constituents during a legislative gathering hosted by the League of Women Voters of Jasper County on Jan. 21 at the Hy-Vee in Newton.

In addition to the grilling Jasper County’s legislators took regarding school choice during a legislative gathering held Jan. 21 by the League of Women Voters, other guests criticized a proposal to stop Iowans from using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for sliced cheese, white bread and fresh meat.

According to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, SNAP provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency. Some lawmakers say the proposal is necessary to thwart fraud and abuse.

Linda Wormley, of Newton, criticized House File 3 at the gathering in Newton, saying the SNAP benefits help those living in small town Iowa. Wormley asked Rep. Jon Dunwell, of House District 37, what he “really wants for rural Iowa.” Dunwell agreed with some of the concerns Wormley raised about the bill.

Iowa Capital Dispatch’s Robin Opsahl reported in Jan. 26 that food bought with SNAP cards would have to match the approved foods listed in Women, Infants and Children Program, which is more tailored to meet the needs of pregnant women and children in early development.

“I’ve already had some meetings about offering an amendment to redo the card part,” Dunwell said. “The idea is, once again, trying to make sure it’s going to the people who need it the most. Sometimes the parameters used for determining that get a little out of whack.”

As lawmakers we revisit the legislation, Dunwell said it is going to be more about values than it is about the number of cars or other assets a family has. Five days after the legislative gathering, Dunwell posted an update on his Facebook regarding the SNAP benefits, affirming amendments were going to be made.

“The subcommittee let everyone know they were going to amend the bill to only prohibit candy and non-zero calorie drinks,” Dunwell said. “The first draft aligned limitations to WIC which was too restrictive. I still think work needs to be done on the asset test.”

Dunwell also said he was going to suggest to the subcommittee to look at limiting assets to $25,000 rather than the number of cars.

Lawmakers who support the legislation have stated the purpose of it is to reduce fraud cases. Iowa Starting Line’s Amie Rivers reported 322 out of 305,045 people were disqualified from SNAP in fiscal year 2020, with only four people convicted of fraud; a rate of about 0.001 percent.

In a column published by Dunwell, the legislator says the intent of the HF 3 is to “ensure Iowa’s welfare programs are sustainable and available for the Iowans who truly need it.” Dunwell said he was concerned by the initial list of food available to be purchased using SNAP benefits.

“Like all bills, I believe more work will be done before it comes to the House floor,” he said.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.