By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) is working against House Study Bill 508, which would impose a new asset test of $2,500 before one could receive SNAP benefits (food stamps). The value of a householdʼs primary residence and one vehicle would be excluded, as would retirement accounts. However, for each additional vehicle, the fair market value exceeding $4,650 would be counted toward the asset limit, which has only been updated once by $150 since 1977. Most families need more than one car to get everybody to work.
Proponents of the bill say 60,000 Iowans right now receive food stamps who fall above the asset limit and would no longer qualify. How will this help families save money for the future? The bill is eligible for consideration by the House Human Resources Committee. To learn more about what you can do to oppose the bill, go to www.iowahungercoalition.org.
Catholic school tuition
Proposals to provide state funds for some parents to help pay for Catholic school tuition, among other uses, are under consideration at the Legislature. A bill to implement Education Savings Accounts, Senate File 128, has passed a subcommittee. We expect to see the governor’s Students First scholarship bill soon.
House Study Bill 593 passed a House subcommittee last week with ICC support. The bill would not allow the state to treat religious conduct more restrictively than comparable secular conduct because of alleged economic need or benefit. During the pandemic, some states forbade large church gatherings while allowing similar-sized secular businesses to operate. In addition, the bill provides that government should not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that applying that burden is a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. This is very similar to a federal law that has been in place since the early 1990s. More than 30 states have such a law or similar provision due to court action. The bill is eligible for consideration by the full House Judiciary Committee.
Senate File 339 has passed a Senate subcommittee. It would require businesses to use the voluntary federal e-verify system to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. The ICC has opposed the bill in part because, if enforced, it would likely cause people to lose their jobs unjustly or not be able to be hired because of errors in the system. The ICC also believes it is the responsibility of federal authorities to enforce violations of e-verify, making state legislation duplicative.
Senate File 485, which passed in a Senate subcommittee, would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees based on pregnancy or childbirth. We believe pregnant women should receive special consideration to meet their needs. An even better version of the bill has been introduced in the House.
House Study Bill 626 and Senate Study Bill 3074 are different versions of a tax cut plan, which are similar to the governor’s plan to create a flat rate income tax. You will hear more about these as the session progresses.
According to Catholic teaching, the family is “the most basic form of human community,” and therefore is “intimately linked” to the long-term future of our nation. Therefore, “economic and social policies as well as the organization of the work world should be continually evaluated in light of their impact on the strength and stability of family life,” (Economic Justice For All no. 93). The Child Tax Credit is an economic and social policy that supports the strength and stability of family life.
Policies are also needed to address “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” You can ask Congress to invest in care for creation and to extend the expanded Child Tax Credit, ensuring it remains fully refundable so that it is available to the lowest income families and that it continues to include mixed-status families.
Visit the ICC website at iowacatholicconference.org for more information on issues.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)