Iowa Republicans are gearing up to really punish those poor people for daring to be poor. A new bill that has nearly 40 Republican cosponsors would limit people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to using those benefits for foods already approved for WIC, a completely different program. That means no fresh meat, no nuts, only 100% whole wheat pasta.
SNAP recipients can currently use that program to get most grocery food items, not including food sold hot. WIC, on the other hand, is an extra supplementary program that sharply limits what its recipients—who are pregnant or have infants or young children—can get. It’s obnoxiously paternalistic as a program for new mothers and young children, but people often get WIC in addition to regular food stamps, so people have a way to get things like fresh meat or brands that haven’t made it onto the WIC-approved list. Iowa Republicans want to cut off those options for everyone who needs help with food.
This comes on top of the end of free school meals for kids and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds rejecting $30 million in federal childcare money. Great times for struggling families in Iowa and across the country.
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People on SNAP, by definition, shop with a limited food budget. But Iowa Republicans want to add a very specific list of things people can and can’t buy to that limited budget.
Yes to chunk or shredded cheese; no to sliced, cubed, or crumbled cheese.
Yes to chunk light tuna in containers with a minimum size of five ounces; no to white albacore, solid, or yellowfin tuna. Yes to canned pink salmon; no to canned red salmon. Definitely no to fresh fish or meat.
Beans are a good source of cheap protein. But if they’re canned, “NO baked beans, refried bean or chili beans,” and if whether they’re dried or canned, they cannot be a soup mix. In fact, if they’re dried, luxuries such as a bean mix are prohibited. You’re getting one kind of beans per bag, dammit.
Want oatmeal? There are three brands allowed, and you’re getting the 16-ounce container.
Again, WIC recipients deal with these lists already. But there are around 64,000 WIC participants in Iowa compared with around 273,000 SNAP recipients. And again, there’s substantial overlap, so someone who’s shopping off that very restricted list with their WIC benefits could be getting more varied options with their SNAP benefits.
"I don't think the 39 co-sponsors of this bill know just how restrictive this is, and that it would ban meat," Luke Elzinga, chairman of the Iowa Hunger Coalition, told Progressive Farmer. "Under this bill, no ground beef, no chicken, no pork in the state of Iowa. I just can't believe that they knew that was what it was when the bill was introduced."
That’s an optimistic thought, and those Republicans now have a chance to say, “Whoops, we didn’t realize that,” and back off of this plan. It’s also a locally relevant point, since, as Progressive Farmer points out, “According to USDA's Livestock Slaughter report released Thursday, Iowa remained the No. 1 state for commercial red-meat production for December, largely because of its dominant position in pork processing.”
To impose this restriction, Iowa would need a waiver from the USDA, which it’s trying to get by putting $1 million into a “Double Up Food Bucks” program that gives people an extra $1 of assistance for every $1 they spend on fruits or vegetables.
This bill needs to die a swift death, and maybe it will. But even if they get scared off of following through, it shows the kind of policy Republicans want to impose. And making sure struggling families know they’re held in contempt—that they’re reminded of that every time they go grocery shopping or sit down to a meal of beans and brown rice and cheese that is definitely not sliced, cubed, or crumbled—is an outcome Republicans want.
Iowa families lose again as Gov. Reynolds rejects $30 million in federal aid for child care