From the Desk of Senator Bennett
We’ve had another eventful week at the Capitol. Sadly, the majority party hasn’t prioritized the things I think are most important: Things like expanding access to healthcare, raising wages, or increasing access to childcare and care for elderly or disabled family members. What if all of the brainpower in the Capitol was dedicated to building a bridge for folks who have “topped out” at their current jobs and could transition into a higher paid career with some support in the form of healthcare, childcare, or even a stipend? Imagine what that would do for Iowa families (AND Iowa’s budget, as many folks could graduate from needing assistance.)
Instead, the air in the building was taken up by bills which do no actual good, but provide political talking points for the majority party.
One of those bills was Senate File 494, a bill that increases the amount of paperwork needed to quality for SNAP, Medicaid, FIP, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP.) The bill adds an asset limit of $15,000 for SNAP. Assets included are any personal property excluding one vehicle, but including any value of a second vehicle over 10,000. The implication is that there are a large number of people receiving assistance who do not truly qualify.
Here are some things to know:
- There has been no evidence of widespread fraud related to assistance programs in Iowa.
- Proponents cite “error rates,” which were discovered in 2018 under then director Jerry Foxhoven. This was not fraud, but an internal systems issue which has since been resolved. Some of the error rate was actually due to *underpayment,* where people who qualified for help did not get it, or did not get what they were eligible for.
- Savings are estimated due to Medicaid disenrollment (aka kids, seniors, and people with disabilities not being able to go the doctor.) This would be due to collecting multiple pieces of documentation and filling out forms PLUS this: If re-verification is requested, a person has 10 days to reply. The request will be sent via mail, but not certified, so note that this is not 10 days from receipt, but 10 days, PERIOD. With constituent communications, we’ve seen mail take 7 days or more to reach rural routes.
- With people falling off of Medicaid and missing medications and doctor’s appointments, the overall healthcare system will likely bear the burden of people turning up at the ER.
- The startup cost for this new system is estimated to be $1,542,316 and ongoing administration costs will be $4,335,670. After four years, even accounting for disenrollment, there will be no net savings to Iowans.
One more thing I want to address is the issue of a second vehicle in a household: There’s an implication operating here that a household with a reliable second vehicle is living “high on the hog.” This is out-of-touch. Even more developed communities like Cedar Rapids lack quality public transit and it’s unrealistic to expect a household with two working adults not to have a second car. Second, it’s in everyone’s best interest for a household to have two cars in good, working order, because car repairs are a huge money suck. If people need a little help getting by, it’s in everyone’s best interest to have two, reliable cars to get the household into a better financial position instead of throwing money into a car that breaks down. Additionally, owners will have to get some kind of appraisal (which likely costs money) and submit documentation for this process.
All-in-all, I do not believe this bill serves Iowans. I spoke against it on the floor and voted “No.”
Moving on, we also heard Senate File 496, another hot-topic bill dealing with school curriculum and permissible discussions in school. You can read more about it here. As always, there are things that sound “reasonable,” but are ridiculous and harmful in practice. Ty Rushing of Iowa Starting Line captured video of my comments on part of the bill that prohibits “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity” in grades K-6.
Something to know:
All human growth and development curriculum is already required to be age-appropriate and medically accurate. No one is describing sex acts to first graders, so this bill wouldn’t address this straw man argument. Instead, teachers’ hands would be tied from addressing bullying kids from same-sex homes by reading an age-appropriate book like And Tango Makes Three, or even responding to a question like “Why does Alex have two moms?” with something as innocuous as “Some kids have two moms…” (This could be considered instruction on sexual orientation.)
With that in mind, I believe that this bill sends the message to LGBTQ kids or kids from LGBTQ families that there is something SO WRONG with them or their families that they cannot even be discussed. It promotes a culture of silence and ignorance and takes our state backwards. Very unfortunate.
One Good Thing:
LGBTQ Panic Defense Update: I’m happy to report that a ban on the LGBTQ panic defense is finally moving in the Senate. I originally wrote this legislation several years ago, and it has passed the House unanimously three times now but hasn’t moved in the Senate in the past.
To learn more, check out this video of me speaking on this legislation in the House. People have tried to mitigate or excuse violent attacks on gay and trans victims by using this defense in court. This bipartisan legislation makes clear that Iowa will not excuse violence against someone simply because of who they are. The bill must be heard in the full Senate judiciary committee next week in order to survive the second funnel.
If you would like to take action on this, consider emailing Senator Brad Zaun, chair of the Senate Judiciary committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an opportunity for bipartisan legislation that sends a message of personal responsibility for any persons who might seek excuses for committing assault, manslaughter of murder, and it’s a chance for the GOP to show that they value fairness and the lives of all Iowans.
What Gives You Hope for Iowa’s Future?
Let’s be honest: it’s been a difficult legislative session.
Republicans here in the statehouse have pushed through big bills that take away opportunity and security for too many Iowa families. They’ve chosen to fight a divisive culture war instead of coming together to solve the real challenges facing our state.
As we round the curve toward the end of the session, we’re looking for some hope. Lucky for us, there’s always hope to be found in the strength and optimism of Iowans.
This week, we’re asking you to share your story: Click the button below to tell us what gives you hope for a brighter future in Iowa politics and government.
- Join the Book Club. The State Historical Society of Iowa’s book club kicks off this month with an online discussion of “The Good Country: A History of the American Midwest, 1800-1900” by Jon Lauck at 7 p.m. March 30. The first-ever chronicle of the Midwest’s formative century, “The Good Country” describes a rich civic culture that prized education, literature, libraries and the arts. Author Jon Lauck will join the discussion. Register here.
- More opportunities for young deer hunters. A bill passed in the Iowa Senate this week allows hunters under 18 to purchase licenses and hunt during all established deer hunters, expanding their options beyond the September 17-to-October 2 youth season. It now moves on to the House for further consideration.
- Stop human trafficking. A bill creating a new Human Trafficking Taskforce passed the Senate this week. The taskforce will create an annual report examining resources available for victims and law enforcement and what additional resources are needed. I’m hopeful this will become law soon.
- Expand penalties for stalking. Senate File 201 enhances penalties for stalking when there is a technological device used to track a victim. We passed this bill in the Senate last week, advancing it to the House for further consideration. This bipartisan bill stems from the growing use of GPS devices in stalking crimes.
- Welcome, VPOTUS. Last Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Des Moines to discuss reproductive rights with legislators and community advocates. Iowans are concerned about government overreach limiting reproductive freedoms, and Senate Democrats are pushing back against Republican politicians who want to restrict or take away reproductive freedom from Iowans.
- Student Loan Forgiveness Update. The Government Accountability Office decided last Friday that President Biden’s student debt relief program is subject to congressional review, providing a new tool for Republicans in Congress to try to block the measure. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst says she’ll try to do exactly that – even though than 408,000 Iowans would be eligible for student loan debt forgiveness under the plan.
- American Rescue Plan anniversary. March 11 marked the second anniversary of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. This transformative legislation created millions of jobs, funded the vaccination campaign, and helped cut the child poverty rate by nearly half in 2021 — the lowest level on record.