The Liberty Bell Memorial is on the capitol grounds in Des Moines next to the Iowa Statehouse parking lot. Photo taken Saturday, June 2, 2019. Credit: Lyle Muller/IowaWatch

In the world of magic, the best practitioners are experts of misdirection — the art of directing the audience to one thing so it doesn’t notice another. 


Done correctly the audience doesn’t feel distracted. They’ll swear they were in complete control of their attention. 


That’s the illusion, the trick. In reality, the magician directed the audience where to look the whole time.

Iowa SNAP recipients — ta da! — no fresh meat for you!

Moving its way through the Iowa Legislature is a doozy of a bill that, as introduced, would have prohibited residents on the federal food assistance program from buying fresh meat, poultry and fresh fish.

In hog-happy Iowa. 

For good measure also on the no-no list for SNAP dollars: nuts and seeds, flour, butter, cooking oil, soup, canned fruits and vegetables, frozen prepared foods, snack foods, herbs, and spices.

I am not making this up.

Under House File 3, folks on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would only be able to purchase the exact same food items as those on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

“This division requires HHS to request a waiver from the United States department of agriculture, food and nutrition service, to provide that the eligible foods under the state administration of SNAP only include those items defined as supplemental foods in the most current Iowa special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children 34 (WIC) approved food list (page 16, line 29 Division V).”

WIC is specifically designed for expectant mothers and includes infant cereal, baby foods, iron-fortified adult cereal, fruits and vegetables, Vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, soy-based beverages, tofu, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, canned fish, whole wheat bread and other whole-grain options.

No fresh meat on the list.

Thirty-nine GOP representatives sponsored House File 3 under the guise of “public assistance program integrity,” including Pat Grassley, the grandson of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley.

After the file was introduced, it was assigned to a House and Human Services subcommittee where it won approval for full HHS consideration in late January by a 2-to-1 vote.

It didn’t take long for the media to get wind of this craziness, hence these headlines:

After the file passed out of subcommittee Grassley had this to say when asked specifically about limiting what could be purchased with SNAP dollars: “Our goal is not just to eliminate swaths of things. But I think there needs to be some level of accountability, and make sure that they’re really things that should qualify. If you don’t lead a healthy lifestyle, that leads to more use of the (government-funded) services.”

More misdirection. If you want the audience to look at something — you look at it. If you want the audience to look away from something — you look away from it. 

Why, you’re wondering, was HF3 drafted with so many food prohibitions in the first place? What does Grassley and company not want you to see — where’s the real “trick” here, what aren’t people looking at?

Voila! The introduced file also included provisions that would knock people off the SNAP rolls if they have savings or assets between $2,750 and $4,250, and require those left in the program deemed healthy, including Medicare recipients, to work 20 hours a week.

That would make lots of Iowa residents pretty darn angry. This misdirection was so effective it roped in Big Meat. Lobbyists for Tyson Foods registered their displeasure with HF3. Ditto for lobbyists from United Way for Central Iowa, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, and the Iowa Food Bank Association.

On Feb. 28, the full Iowa House Health and Human Services Committee recommended amending HF3 by a 12-9 vote and sending it to the floor for consideration.

Presumably, the yet-to-be-filed amendment will eliminate the SNAP/WIC misdirection. But during the HHS hearing, lawmakers agreed to seek a USDA waiver to prevent SNAP dollars from being used to purchase soda. Just to keep folk agitated, I imagine. 

Don’t be fooled. The real purpose of HF3 is altering SNAP eligibility requirements — savings/assets limits and working 20 hours a week — not food prohibitions.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Investigate Midwest covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect Investigate Midwest. Email him at

Type of work:

David Dickey always wanted to be a journalist. After serving tours in the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, Dickey enrolled at Rock Valley Junior College in Rockford, Ill., where he was first news editor...

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