Each year one of the most common complaints I receive is from constituents who believe someone is receiving welfare benefits who shouldn’t be getting them.  I haven’t heard many say the program should be ended, but everyone says the program should accurately identify those who are eligible.

For the fourth year in a row I have filed my welfare eligibility verification bill.  This bill didn’t move far the first year.  I learned a lot about the programs and the solutions that were available to fix them.  I have now run the bill successfully out of the Senate for the second year in a row. Senate File 389 is a bill that first sets up an asset test for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps.  Currently, our state is using what is known as ‘Broad Based Categorical Eligibility’ to make it easier to get onto SNAP.  Thirty-nine states and Washington D.C. use this system.  It is used by states to allow people who have too many assets or make too much money get onto SNAP because they qualify for another program with higher limits.  This artificially balloons the roles of eligible Americans on food stamps by an estimated five million people.  I can’t find an estimate for Iowa alone.  SF 389 would move Iowa back to the federal income limits for this program.

Additionally, SF 389 directs the Iowa Department of Human Services to begin to develop a real-time eligibility program to verify the eligibility of those seeking assistance or annual renewals of program eligibility for all welfare programs.  Real-time verification checks are a commonly used technology used in our state government by Iowa Workforce Development in unemployment claims and by the Dept. of Transportation to hire seasonal help.  It is commonly used in the private sector for digital cash transactions and credit cards.

Used for Iowa assistance programs, real time verification would eliminate fraud by confirming the previous asset test for SNAP.  This system will lock in the identity of the applicant. It would verify state residence so people couldn’t claim assistance in two states at once.  It would confirm employment status.  Many other criteria can be verified in seconds.  This is currently being done manually by income maintenance workers with DHS over the year.

Better yet, this type of system will help the applicant.  To prove their status, they have to bring paper documents to DHS and have them checked.  A real time system would have the ability to check the status of an applicant almost instantly and relieve the Iowan from having to bring documents each year to prove themselves.  Once implemented, the real time vendor could run a large list of program recipients under annual review and return a report to DHS listing those who had red flags pop up and need manual verification.  The gain in efficiency is enormous.

Estimates of cost savings are hard to come by, as some money is federal and some is state.  Also, historical data on fraud and duplication is also rare.  Very few states have really dug down to see how much waste there is in our assistance programs.  But our Legislative Services Agency has offered a guess.  The first year of start up costs add up to over $5 million, mostly federal dollars. But once the system is in place, the estimated savings are over $47 million federal dollars and over $11 million state tax dollars.

The House hasn’t shown any interest in taking up SF 389.  I started working on this bill four years ago, just before Iowa received a nearly $2 million fine for our high error rate in SNAP payments.  You would think that fine would make this bill an easy victory for Iowa taxpayers.  So far the Iowa House of Representatives isn’t sold.