Republicans in the Iowa Senate are aiming to require drug testing for welfare recipients and require “able-bodied” Iowans who get food stamps or Medicaid benefits to work or volunteer in their community.
Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said he wants to spark a “big discussion” to address the “falsehoods and the truths about our welfare system.”
“There is a culture that wants to maintain all the money that is being plowed into these programs and it keeps people on the system that shouldn’t be,” Schultz said. “I’ll agree a lot of them don’t want to be. Some people do want to be. I have examples of back home of individuals who have flat out told me: ‘I can make more money on the programs than…going to work.'”
Wendy Rickman, an Iowa Department of Human Services administrator, said her staff’s initial estimate is that it would cost the state at least $100 million to implement the bill.
“I appreciate the idea there will be opportunity for further discussion,” Rickman told a handful of senators involved in a subcommittee meeting early this morning. “DHS is very good at doing fiscal impact. It’s what we do. We cannot wrap our heads around this bill, quite frankly.”
Rickman said states which have required drug testing for welfare recipients “have rolled those initiatives back” because they’re “not effective.”
“DHS is supremely interested in only those folks who are eligible for benefits receiving those and only getting them for the amount of time that they’re eligible…and would love to work with you on narrowing this bill,” Rickman said. “…This is so broad and wide-sweeping and so all inclusive that it would require much more effort and cost that what we’ll actually fix.”
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate already have begun a fierce debate over the bill. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, called it a “political document” that will be used against legislators who oppose drug testing welfare recipients.
“The states that have tested spent more money on testing than they have saved on the money that they caught people in fraud,” Dotzler said.
Dotzler used an expletive to describe parts of the bill he called unconstitutional.
“This bill is full of a lot of crap,” Dotzler said. “Why bring it forward unless there’s some political motivation?”
Senator Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, is seeking state restrictions to forbid food benefits from being used to buy junk food, restrictions included in a first draft of the legislation.
“Why would we use taxpayer money to fund junk food?” Chapman asked. “…I can tell you, people are frustrated out there that their taxpayer money is going to soda and chips.”
The bill, still under development, cleared the Senate Labor Committee today after an hour-long debate. In the House, a bill was tabled that would have required able-bodied Medicaid and food stamps recipients to work, but House Republicans are working on a proposal that would force state officials to start the process of seeking federal waiver to accomplish that goal.