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A bill that requires working-age, able-bodied adults enrolled in Medicaid to work, train or volunteer for 20 hours per week narrowly passed through the Senate Labor and Business Relations committee on Thursday.

Anyone that meets one of the following conditions would be exempt: If they’re under 18 or over 64, medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, pregnant, parent or caretaker of a dependent child under 1 year of age or a child with a serious medical condition or disability, receiving unemployment compensation or participating in a drug addiction or alcoholic treatment and rehabilitation.

Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) said he believes at least 70 percent of Iowans agree that those receiving public benefits, if they’re able-bodied and do not meet one of the exceptions, should be doing something.

“Iowans are OK helping those who are in need, those who have a reason why they’re asking for benefits,” he said. “But everybody has stories in which it at least appears that somebody is able to work but decided not to.”

Schultz said the bill is far from the finished product, but needs to pass in order to survive the funnel.

There were two amendments to the bill, both passed. The second created a phase-out program within DHS for annual redetermination of state childcare assistance.

Most Democrat senators spoke out against the bill, as did Sen. Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant), who said he was willing to wait and work on whatever bill the House may send to the Senate addressing the issue.

Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) was the biggest critic of the bill. He took on Schultz’s contention that the majority of Iowans want something done on this issue.

“As senators, we know more than what they know,” Dotzler said. “I think if you would’ve polled people back in the Middle Ages and asked them how many people believed the world was flat, I think you’d be at a very high number. But we know the reality of that wasn’t true. I really believe that we’re in the same type of situation.”

Dotzler said people have all sorts of problems that keep them from working, but admitted there might be “a few” people out there who have the ability to work, but don’t.

After some dialogue, Dotzler brought Schultz’s faith into the debate.

“Sen. Schultz, I know the type of person you are, you’re a good person,” said Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo). “You have Bible study programs and I see that all the time. And yet I can’t connect your base of what type of person you are and what these programs do. So, the only thing I can think about is the Party that you’re in is pandering to the voters who have a total misunderstanding about food stamps and what it means to families. And they’re going to vote against Bill Dotzler, who is going to vote against this bill because I do understand.”

Schultz closed with strong remarks.

“I can’t hardly avoid needing to say I don’t think Senators know more than the people of Iowa,” Schultz said. “I think the people of Iowa know what kind of state they want to work in and it is not for Senators to tell them that they don’t know what they’re talking about when they expect their neighbors to go to work just as they do.”

Schultz said he wants to see people move up to a place where they become producers, which is inherent in humanity.

“It brings dignity, it brings a better standard of living, it moves people out of the program,” Schultz said. “Folks, you have to be told once in a while that you gotta go ahead and do this.”

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall