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The pace of legislation has slowed as we passed the funnel deadline last week. The focus is now to pass Senate files and send them to the House for their committee system to consider. The next deadline is March 20. By that day a Senate file must be out of the House committee or House file out of a Senate committee or the bill is no longer considered. This week the goal is to give the other chamber as much time as possible to take up our bills.

One of my highest priorities this year is SF 2272. It is a bill to modernize the way the Department of Human Services conducts its eligibility and verification checks for public assistance programs. Currently, hundreds of income maintenance workers are manually calling to check and verify the accuracy of the applicant’s information or to look for changes for those continuing their participation. The bill would have the department develop real-time verification using private-sector vendors who offer lightning-fast and accurate analysis of participants by running their identity through public and secure private databases that can confirm eligibility or flag the identity for further human examination to make sure recipients are not wrongly denied benefits.

I’ve been working on this issue for three years and it is especially important this year. On July 30, 2019, Iowa was fined $1.8 million for having a high of error rate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. An audit found the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) overpaid $40 million tax dollars to SNAP recipients in 2018. This fine came after DHS was warned the previous summer that Iowa had an error rate nearly as high in 2017. The reasons cited were the department not verifying required data, and recipients not reporting information. The solution to this problem was to pass and implement the bill I developed before the audit was released. During this time, I was assured the bill was not needed. The department believed they had verification under control. I knew we could do better.

This year I added to the idea. It stands to reason that if the error rate for SNAP is unacceptably high due to DHS not getting all the checks done, there is a good chance this problem exists in all our other welfare programs. The second division of my bill adds these expanded checks to other public programs such as Medicaid, FIP, and CHIP. This should not worry those who truly need this assistance and meet the clear requirements to enroll. This bill is only seeking to identify those who are defrauding the system, those who moved into or out of the state and want to illegally enroll in two states, and those whose life has changed for the better and no longer qualify for assistance.

It is important to point out that those who are truly eligible for public assistance will still be eligible. I would also point out that the private sector vendor only filters the information. Recipients who have a discrepancy found would then be referred to DHS. The department then will manually confirm the eligibility of the participant.

I wish I could report the bill passed with unanimous approval, but only the Senate Republicans voted to modernize our welfare verification system. We moved the Eligibility and Verification Bill to the House where I’ll be working to garner support in that chamber.

Author: Jason Schultz

State Sen. Jason Schultz served three terms in the House prior to being elected to the Iowa Senate. Schultz served seven years in the National Guard and served as volunteer fire fighter for the Schleswig Volunteer FD for 13 years, two years as the department's chief.