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Legislature tackles welfare, voter fraud

Last week was the sixth week of the 2021 legislative session. The Senate passed several bills during the week, discussing a number of topics such as education funding, increasing flexibility of continuing education requirements, and the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Senate File 364 conforms state income tax code to the most recent federal tax change, allowing the deductibility of qualifying expenses for forgiven PPP loans for fiscal year filers. This deduction is already allowed under Iowa law for calendar year filers, but this would make it effective for both fiscal and calendar year filers.

The Senate introduced and advanced SF 389 out of the Commerce Committee to address fraud in Iowa’s public assistance programs. In 2019, Iowa was fined approximately $2 million by the US Department of Agriculture for a nearly 10 percent error rate in the administration of a welfare program. The goal of welfare programs are to provide a safety net, not a lifestyle, to those individuals meeting the required criteria, like being a resident of Iowa, a citizen of the United States, and with limited income or assets.

The current process on identifying eligibility for welfare programs in Iowa is outdated and significantly more efficient processes are available. An abundance of consumer data is readily available from federally regulated companies to confirm in real time if someone applying for public assistance is doing so properly. These organizations can check the assets, employment, residency and citizenship in a matter of moments. Every individual improperly receiving benefits takes up resources intended for someone legitimately in need.

Rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in order to protect taxpayer dollars is a key role of the legislature. More accurate administration of welfare benefits in Iowa will save taxpayers from being cheated by fraudsters and also protects against future penalties from the federal government for not administering the program as carefully as necessary.

The United States Constitution specifically empowers state legislatures with authority over election law. The Iowa Senate takes that responsibility seriously and has made a number of changes over the last four years to improve the reliability and security of Iowa’s elections with common-sense reforms like requiring voter identification at the polls, and a similar requirement for requesting an absentee ballot.

In 2020, a few county auditors attempted to violate Iowa law and circumvent the security measures implemented on Iowa absentee ballot request forms. County auditors are directed to implement election law, not write it. In response, the Iowa Senate advanced SSB 1199 this week to improve the administration of elections and ensure one set of consistent and fair election laws are in place across the state regardless if the county is urban or rural, Republican or Democrat.

This bill also prohibits ballot harvesting. This practice typically involves partisans from a campaign or party soliciting the collection of absentee ballots and delivering them to the auditor. A number of stories have been told, even some in Iowa, of partisan actors failing to deliver voters ballots to the auditor, thus disenfranchising those voters. Postage is paid on all absentee ballots, while caregivers and members of the same household are still able to help deliver a ballot.

SSB 1199 changes the beginning of early voting from 29 days before an election to 18 days before an election. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the average window for early voting in the U.S. is 19 days. This change puts Iowa closer to that average.

A strong republic depends on the confidence of the people in the selection of their leaders. SSB 1199 continues to improve Iowa’s election law in an effort to bolster the confidence of Iowans in the electoral process by making it easy to vote but hard to cheat.

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Jeff Edler is the state senator representing District 36. Contact him at jeff.edler@legis.iowa.gov.

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