Kalbach: Leadership in Des Moines seem hellbent on continuing their attacks on the public sector and rural economy
Iowa’s political leaders are two weeks into their annual legislative and budget session, already revealing their agenda and priorities for the state government in 2023. Unfortunately, the Governor and House and Senate leadership in Des Moines seem hellbent on continuing their attacks on the public sector and rural economy.
Governor Kim Reynolds’s top priority again this year (which at press time has already passed and will soon be signed by the Governor) appears to be a fast-moving private school voucher proposal that will be devastating for Iowa public schools. Rural Iowa public schools are expected to be hit hardest by this bill, leading to fewer teachers and staff in already underfunded communities.
Next on the list is a cruel and misguided bill, House File 3, that would prevent Iowa SNAP recipients from purchasing meat, white bread, American cheese, and other common foods. House Majority Leader Pat Grassley’s (R-HD 50, Cedar Falls) legislation would also impose additional asset tests and work requirements to reduce SNAP eligibility. Grassley is joined by 38 Republican co-sponsors in this attempt to punish hungry Iowa families.
SNAP--the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps--currently helps more than 130,000 Iowa households afford their monthly groceries. They spend more than $500 million per year at current SNAP benefit levels in Iowa grocery stores. That’s a lot of grocery spending, revenue for grocers, and jobs in the grocery business to throw into chaos, especially in rural Iowa where grocery stores can be few and far between. That’s also a lot of consumer demand for the things we farmers grow.
This isn’t just rhetoric. The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) tracks this data and estimates that every $1 of federal SNAP spending results in $1.54 of economic activity. Nationwide, every additional $1 billion in SNAP benefits results in $32 million in income for U. S. agriculture industries and supports 480 full-time agriculture jobs, according to most recent USDA calculations. ERS says that the economic benefits of SNAP are much larger in rural places.
You have to ask yourself why Grassley and other Republican leaders would want to propose this disaster for Iowa’s farm and food system. So far, Grassley has described his SNAP bill as a method of cutting “these entitlement programs. They’re the ones that are growing within the budget and are putting pressure on us being able to fund other priorities.”
What the SNAP opponents aren’t saying is that 100% of SNAP benefits come from the federal government. The state of Iowa does share administrative costs with the USDA to run the program, but that number would likely increase if House File 3 were to pass. Iowa’s SNAP administrators would have to implement miles of new red tape to deal with the bill’s draconian rules and procedures, this in a program with among the lowest fraud rates of any federal program (less than 1%).
Plus, it is obvious that Grassley and these 38 other legislators didn’t write the bill, let alone actually read it. Instead, they just leaned on a Florida-based think tank to decide what’s best for Iowans, what we put on our plates, and what people should be allowed to buy at the grocery store.
If the Grassley SNAP bill is bad for the economy and also creates bureaucratic headaches for state agencies, there only leaves one possible reason why Republican House leaders are going on this tirade: they want to rip apart good government programs that support poor people, many elderly people, low wage workers, disabled people, and low-income children.
At Iowa CCI we know it isn’t about big government or small government, it’s about who the government works for. Grassley and the GOP’s attacks on SNAP are nothing more than grandstanding about "government spending." That's an incredibly dangerous photo op with so much on the line, both for the Iowa economy and for the hundreds of thousands of Iowans who depend on a functional federal SNAP program to put food on the table.
Adair County, Iowa
Barb Kalbach is a 4th generation family farmer, Registered Nurse, and board member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.