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[Hunger] Pa. to eliminate asset test for food stamps

Wednesday, April 22, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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Pennsylvania will eliminate the asset test for food stamps as of Monday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services announced Tuesday evening.

The controversial test, initiated by then-Gov. Tom Corbett in 2012, ties federal food-stamp benefits - now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP - to people's bank accounts and car ownership.

Corbett saw the test as a way to cut down on fraud and waste.

During the campaign for governor, then-candidate Tom Wolf called the asset test "another example of how [Corbett] has embraced policies intended to hurt our most vulnerable residents."

Advocates for the poor have said the asset test was a barrier for those struggling with hard times because it penalized the poor for saving money.

"This is great," Sister Mary Scullion, president and executive director of Project HOME, said. Her antipoverty nonprofit serves the homeless in Philadelphia.

"It's such a critically needed and significant move that will really impact the lives of so many Pennsylvanians struggling to make it each and every day," she said.

Similarly, hunger expert Mariana Chilton of Drexel University's School of Public Health hailed the state's decision. "This will allow people who are low-income to be encouraged to save money and build their own safety nets," she said.

Pennsylvania was one of 12 states to institute such a test, seen by critics, including academics, as unnecessary red tape that stymies deserving people in accessing SNAP benefits. Some 1.83 million low-income Pennsylvanians receive monthly SNAP benefits, state figures show.

Under the test, households with people under age 60 have been limited to $5,500 in assets to qualify for SNAP benefits. For households with older residents, or those with disabilities, the figure has been $9,000.

Houses, retirement benefits, and one car have not been counted as assets.

The end of the test will mean a savings of $3.5 million annually to the state, removing "unnecessary administrative burdens and costs to the commonwealth," said the department spokeswoman, Kait Gillis.

Advocates say they were able to prove that the asset test was more hindrance than help.

During the first year of the test, nearly 4,000 households lost or were denied benefits because they had too many financial resources, state figures showed.

In that same time, though, many more people - some 111,000 households - were denied benefits simply because they failed to provide proper documentation for the asset test.

Advocates for the poor said that by weeding out a relatively small number of people with too many assets, the state made getting food stamps so complicated that deserving low-income people became inundated by paperwork and lost their chance to hold on to precious benefits.

Those who defended the asset test have said that aside from guarding against fraud and waste, it is prudent to scrutinize the backgrounds of people accepting federal money.

Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the conservative Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, said the asset test has been an important first step toward preserving resources "for the truly needy." She added, "We're concerned about this development."

Stelle said that during the last session of the state legislature, a bill had been proposed to make portions of the asset test more stringent. The legislation didn't make it through, she said.

Eliminating the test is seen as a big help to the elderly, who were penalized for saving for their own funerals, noted Caryn Long, executive director of Harrisburg-based Feeding Pennsylvania, a state association of food banks that is part of the national Feeding America charity.

Long said she and other advocates had been working with the state's Department of Human Services to get rid of the test.

"We're so thrilled," said Kathy Fisher, policy manager of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. "The asset test was always wrongheaded."


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/20150422_Pa__to_eliminate_asset_test_for_food_stamps.html#fxUvgjrhbqGhvQ91.99


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