Pa. asset test for food stamps still in place as Congress fails to act on federal funding

     A cashier scans purchases at a ShopRite grocery story in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

    A cashier scans purchases at a ShopRite grocery story in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

    The chief of Pennsylvania’s public welfare department said she has not yet made a decision on the state’s food-stamps asset test, more than two months after she said she was “rethinking” the controversial policy.

    Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth said her analysis of the asset test has hit a road block: congressional inertia.

    Federal lawmakers have so far been unable to reach a deal on food stamp benefits. They are considering cutbacks to the program ranging from $4 billion to $40 billion over the next decade.

    “We were concerned that the federal government was going to cut the food stamps. We’re still very concerned about what that is going to end up looking like,” said Mackereth. “Until we know, we don’t want to make any rash decisions.”

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    Under the asset test, households with someone over 60 years old, or with disabilities, can have no more than $9,000 in assets in order to qualify for food stamps. The threshold for those under 60 is $5,500. Some assets, such as a first car and educational saving accounts, are not counted.

    Proponents of the asset test say it ensures that limited tax dollars go to those most in need. 

    Conversely, advocates for the poor have been calling on Mackereth to abandon the measure. They say the asset test makes it more difficult for people to escape poverty by limiting savings.

    “If they drop those savings down, you just put them really at the edge of the cliff,” said Bill Clark, president of the hunger relief organization Philabundance. “That’s perhaps one rent payment they won’t make. That’s one step closer to being evicted.”

    At the same time, Clark said he understood that Mackereth was being held back by congressional inaction.

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