How many households in our diocese depend on meat, poultry and seafood as a source of protein in their diet? How many households use flour, butter and sugar, cooking oil, spices and condiments in their cooking and baking? If our Iowa legislators proposed to eliminate these food items from our diet, how would we react?
Those of us who can afford these food staples do not have to worry about that possibility, but Iowans who depend on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to stave off hunger face that reality. As the body of Christ, called by our faith to support our many parts, we must oppose legislation that would deny our fellow citizens the right to food that the rest of us enjoy as part of a healthy diet.
House File 3 (HF3), “An act relating to public assistance program integrity,” was introduced this month, ironically, Poverty Awareness Month. The bill — which addresses SNAP and some other public assistance programs — has 39 sponsors, including Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley. SNAP is a federal program that helps millions of low-income families put food on their table, provides benefits to supplement a family’s food budget and to purchase healthy food (https://tinyurl.com/4dwr2c6y).
“SNAP is the nation’s most important and effective tool at addressing hunger and food insecurity. In November 2022, SNAP provided $45.6 million in benefits to 273,085 Iowans,” the Iowa Hunger Coalition reports. “The number of Iowans currently enrolled in SNAP,” the coalition notes, “is at a 14-year low” (https://tinyurl.com/ce2c7wnw).
The bill, now in the Iowa House Health and Human Services Committee, would limit food purchases to items approved for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program. Keep in mind, SNAP and WIC constituencies are not the same! SNAP recipients include children up to age 17, individuals with disabilities and senior citizens. Their nutritional needs differ from mothers-to-be, breastfeeding moms and their young children up to age 5.
WIC recipients purchase specific foods designed to “supplement their diets with specific nutrients that benefit WIC’s target population” (https://tinyurl.com/2p82nsxb). Among the food items not on their list – and that could be excluded from Iowa’s SNAP list – are meat, poultry, seafood, frozen prepared foods, butter, flour, cooking oil, herbs, spices, canned fruits and vegetables, soup and nuts. The federal government would have to approve any changes regarding food items, and the Iowa Legislature’s proposed bill seeks a federal waiver to do so.
The Iowa Catholic Conference opposes House File 3 because it would change Iowa’s eligibility system for SNAP and Medicaid. While some of the changes might make the system more efficient, “other changes would have negative effects, such as a new stricter asset test for food stamp recipients.” The proposed law seems aimed at removing benefits from people or making it so difficult to verify eligibility that they will walk away discouraged and hungry. Food pantries in our diocese already are stretched financially due to demand and rising grocery prices.
Meanwhile, the USDA says “the temporary boost to SNAP benefits put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic (emergency allotments) will end nationwide after the February 2023 issuance.” Furthermore, “households that receive SNAP and Social Security benefits will see a decrease in their SNAP benefits because of the significant cost of living increase to Social Security benefits that took effect on Jan. 1, 2023” (https://tinyurl.com/psjea5rr).
Why is the Iowa Legislature making House File 3 one of its legislative priorities? The Gazette’s Erin Murphy quoted House Speaker Grassley as calling for “some level of accountability” and to make sure that SNAP food items are things “that should qualify. If you don’t lead a healthy lifestyle, that leads to more use of (government-funded) services” (https://tinyurl.com/yvfdvf37).
We have some work to do:
• Contact your state legislators at legis.iowa.gov/legislators to oppose House File 3.
• Follow the legislation on the Iowa Catholic Conference website (iowacatholicconference.org) and the Iowa Hunger Coalition (iowahungercoalition.org/protect-snap/) or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Visit the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service website for updates on SNAP and to register your objection to Iowa’s proposed changes in allowable food purchases (https://tinyurl.com/psjea5rr).
Finally, let us keep in mind the words of St. John Paul II in his encyclical “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis” (The Social Concern). “Those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor