When he spoke of “entitlement” last week, Iowa’s Speaker of the House Pat Grassley was not describing his dynastic ascent to political prominence.
The grandson of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley was talking about food stamps. And he was attempting to justify his effort to restrict not only who receives them, but also what they are permitted to purchase. The underlying principle is not surprising for a conservative Republican: The poor should be entitled to less.
“It’s these entitlement programs, they’re the ones that are growing within the budget and are putting pressure on us being able to fund other priorities,” the younger Grassley, who describes himself as a self-employed farmer and makes $65,000 a year for his legislative job, told the press.
In the name of fiscal necessity at a time when Iowa has a $1.8 billion budget surplus, Pat was seeking to limit food stamp recipients to purchasing from a list promulgated for expectant mothers. The forbidden items would include fresh meat, fish, sliced cheese, white rice, butter, cooking oil, butter, flour, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.
Pat failed to mention that food stamps—formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—are federally funded. The state only pays half of the administrative costs, which for Iowa constituted only $27.84 per case per month in 2020, less than the cost per case in 18 other states.
So cutting the eligibility rolls for food stamps would save the state a relative pittance at most. Iowa might actually end up paying more as a result.
“The administrative cost to try to kick people off the program would only increase the cost to the state,” Luke Elzinga, chair of the Iowa Hunger Coalition, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know what they were thinking, frankly.”
Iowa would have to run a complete asset check on every applicant to ensure they do not exceed a cutoff of $2,750 per household—$4,250 if someone is disabled or over 60.
“If someone loses their job, they have to spend down any savings they have before they can actually get on the program,” Elzinga said.
Residences would be exempt from the tally, but households of any size would only be allowed one car. Just getting to and from work might prove complicated for families where more than one member is employed. You might get a job but you could soon grow weary of trying to get to it, and your boss might get fed up with you being late.
“In rural areas of the state, having a vehicle makes the difference between finding and holding employment,” Elzinga noted. “What we’re really especially concerned about is households with more than one vehicle would be at risk of losing their benefits.
Pat Grassley did not respond to a request for comment. Elzinga says conservative Republicans in the Iowa legislature have been pushing for Medicaid work requirements and welfare “reforms” for the past several years. But going after food stamps clearly has less to do with saving the state money than with making a point.
“It is ideological,” Elzinga said.
It is also shameful.
And it becomes more so when you consider that the Grassley family farm has received some $1.75 million in federal subsidies over the past two decades. More than $1 million of it was classified as “commodity subsidies”—something the government pays farmers to make up the difference when the free market crop price fails to reach the “effective reference prices’” established by Congress. The eligible crops include corn and soybeans, which the Grassleys grow on their 750 acres in Butler County.
A photo that Pat Grassley posted on Facebook on Jan. 9 shows his grandfather swearing him in for his eighth term in the Iowa legislature. The younger Grassley then got to work restricting a food benefit for the poor that he calls an entitlement program.