Prospect of ‘asset test’ for food stamps in Pa. stirs anger, fear

The state of Pennsylvania’s plan to end food assistance to people who have more than $2,000 in savings is getting quite a reaction.

The state notified the federal Department of Agriculture at the end of December that it intends to implement a means test for those receiving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. The program is better known as food stamps.

Those younger than 60 with more than $2,000 in savings would no longer be eligible for the assistance. The limit would be a little more than $3,000 for seniors and the disabled. Houses and retirement accounts would not be counted as assets, and one vehicle also would be exempt.

The decision will have devastating results, said Mary Horstmann, deputy policy director of the City of Philadelphia.

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“Tens of thousands of people across the city and hundreds of thousands of people, possibly, across the state of Pennsylvania will not be able to get food to feed their families,” she said.

Once the benefits are cut off, it’s likely people will go to food cupboards for help. That concerns Bill Clark of Philabundance, which supplies community food pantries.

“There’s not that much resilience and reserve in the food bank system to handle anything like this,” he said. “There was a time, a little over a year ago, when they had one payless payday for state employees and that nearly crashed the system. The food banks had to set up separate programs to provide food to people who were one paycheck away — and we are talking here about people who are already in dire straits.”

John Dodds of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project dismisses the plan as nothing more than saber rattling by the state.

“They are pandering to people who think there is a conspiracy out here that poor people are plundering their pockets,” he said. “And it’s this myth that goes back to the welfare Cadillacs and so forth … they are pandering to that population.”

Dodds said the unemployed don’t have any savings — so they won’t need to worry about the means test.

Fraud concerns prompt plan for test

Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the state Department of Welfare, stressed that the asset test has not yet been imposed. The state put in the request to the federal government out of concern about fraud.

“The most common complaint that we hear over and over again from taxpayers is that people who are on the food stamp program … are essentially taking advantage of the system,” she said. “The asset test is being reinstated to insure program integrity for those who most need it, and that is a priority for the Corbett administration.”

Since the means test was dropped by the Rendell administration in 2008, Miller said the number of individuals in the program has gone up from 1.2 million to 1.8 million. She said there are concerns that those who do not deserve the benefit are receiving it.

In addition to putting good food beyond the purchasing power of many, the owner of 10 Shoprite supermarkets in the region said he might have to lay off employees if the test cuts food spending locally.

“The way it’s set up now is the right way,” said Jeff Brown. “An asset test is a bad business decision for the state. It’s very harmful to our business and all the people who depend on our business, including all the truckers and the farmers who have grown products for our business.

“And, in Pennsylvania, we have agriculture as part of our economy that counts on supermarkets in the city selling their products,” Brown said.

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