Iowa Republicans push 'profoundly cruel and petty' restrictions
A farmer stands in a field (Shutterstock).
Republicans in the Iowa House introduced legislation this month that would impose a slew of fresh restrictions on the kinds of food people can purchase using SNAP benefits, sparking outrage among local groups who say the measure would exacerbate hunger in the GOP-dominated state.

The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), an interfaith group that operates the largest food pantry network in Iowa, noted in a statement earlier this week that if the bill passes, "Iowans could no longer use their SNAP benefits to purchase meat, nuts, and seeds; flour, butter, cooking oil, soup, canned fruits, and vegetables; frozen prepared foods, snack foods, herbs, spices—not even salt or pepper."

"This is a punitive policy that will do nothing to improve the health and nutrition of Iowans, but rather be a detriment," the group said.

The Iowa Hunger Coalition (IHC) also condemned the bill, voicing opposition to its proposed food restrictions as well as new asset limits that would make it more difficult for families to qualify for SNAP, a program funded by the federal government and administered by states.

"This bill would restrict SNAP participants' ability to make their own food choices, take food away from Iowans, and increase hunger and food insecurity in our state," IHC warned.

According to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., roughly 229,500 people—including 80,160 children—are facing food insecurity in Iowa.

The details of the new legislation—which is sponsored by 39 Iowa House Republicans, including Speaker Pat Grassley—were met with national anger.

"This is so profoundly cruel and petty," said Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of the progressive advocacy group Indivisible.

Sarah Bowen, a sociologist who studies food and inequality, noted in a tweet on Thursday that "Republicans have tried to destroy SNAP for years," animated by the lie that "SNAP recipients are all stocking up on lobster and steak."

"This is the most ridiculous proposal I've seen though," Bowen added. "No chicken or ground beef. No chili beans. No American cheese?!"

SNAP recipients are already limited in what they can purchase at the grocery store using their benefits, but Iowa Republicans are seeking to dramatically expand those restrictions.

As Todd Dorman of the Iowa Gazette explained in a column on Thursday, the legislation "would require the Department of Health and Human Services to seek a federal waiver allowing Iowa to scrap an already restrictive federal list of approved foods and replace it with a list of food available to recipients of aid to Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC."

"The bill would also, for the first time, create an asset test, limiting household assets to $2,750 or $4,250 if one member of the household is over 60. It exempts just one vehicle, potentially making households with two cars ineligible," Dorman wrote. "Beyond all of that draconian wisdom, the bill would force recipients to jump through far more regulatory hoops to become eligible and stay on SNAP, wrapping recipients tightly in red tape and likely costing the state millions more to administer the program."

"Only two groups support the bill," Dorman added. "One is the Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project, which sends its minions across the country to cut holes in the social safety net and oppose policies such as Medicaid expansion. The group is part of a web of conservative think tanks and bill mills bankrolled by rich donors who think if you just make poor people hungry and sick enough, they'll utilize their bootstraps."

The other group is the right-wing Iowans for Tax Relief.