A less strict asset test for Pennsylvania’s food assistance program

    Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare has submitted its final plan to re-instate an asset test for SNAP, what used to be called food stamps. Governor Corbett plans to reinstate an asset test that’s less restrictive than the one his predecessor had in place until 2008.

    Under the proposal SNAP recipients age 59 or younger can’t have more than $5,500 in savings. The limit would be $9,000 for the elderly and disabled. That’s significantly higher than the limits enforced by Ed Rendell’s administration. Then it was $2,000 for most people and $3,250 for the elderly or disabled. A home, retirement accounts and a first car do not count toward the limit.

    Still, bringing back the asset test is troubling to Julie Zaebst, the Policy Center Manager at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. She said Pennsylvania eliminated it a few years ago because the recession pushed many formerly middle class families to turn to SNAP.

    “The state decided that it was important that families be able to preserve some of their savings for instance to pay the mortgage while they were looking for work or to cover emergency medical expenses and to still be able to participate in the program,” said Zaebst. “So at this point, 36 states do not have an asset test and many of them did choose to eliminate it during the recession.”

    Zaebst said the state did a cost-benefit analysis in 2008 and determined scrapping the test would save money. She added that Pennsylvania also decided to get rid of the asset test because many formerly middle-class families with small nest eggs have fallen on hard times and ended up needing SNAP.

    Department of Public Welfare spokesperson Anne Bale said the proposed levels are significantly higher than limits that were in place as recently as 2008.

    “The previous Administration did use those lower limits as part of their asset test for six of the eight years the Rendell administration was in office so we have chosen to raise those limits to make sure that they are properly in line with inflation and cost of living that’s more accurate today,” said Bale.

    Bale said the goal is to run the best food assistance program possible and to ensure that only those in need are receiving help.

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