Tag Archives: Economic Justice

Pennsylvania Restricts Access to Food Stamps in Tough Economic Times

Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW) under the Corbett Administration plans to implement an asset-based eligibility test by May 2012 that will restrict the number of Pennsylvanians eligible to receive assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is more commonly known as food stamps.  Once the asset test is implemented, families must have less than $2,000 in savings and other assets, and households with seniors must have less than $3,250 in assets, to qualify for food stamps.  Houses, retirement benefits, and a single car would be exempt, but any additional vehicle worth more than $4,650 would not.  DPW’s decision to join a minority of states by shifting to an asset test is an example of how DPW’s stereotypical, inaccurate views of the poor lead to selfish, short-sighted policies that will harm Pennsylvania.

The DPW’s rationale for this change is that it will reduce waste, fraud, and abuse, but the facts do not support this argument.  Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians could lose their food stamps with no benefit for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers from this misguided and ill-conceived policy: Pennsylvania already has among the lowest SNAP fraud rates in the country and Pennsylvania will not save a single penny of state money by implementing this change because it will deprive Pennsylvania of federal SNAP dollars and raise administrative costs.  The change will also hurt Pennsylvania’s economy by reducing the economic activity that SNAP generates through community spending.  Furthermore, the asset limit applied in the test—$2,000 for most households and $3,250 for seniors—is outdated, having been originally proposed almost three decades ago, when families could afford more with less money.  The asset test also sends the wrong message by penalizing and discouraging savings, thereby harming hardworking and frugal lower income individuals, including the working poor, individuals who have been laid off recently, and seniors.

Denying food stamps to people who need it exacerbates the effects of poverty, which already disproportionately impacts women, who are more likely than men to face barriers to gainful employment due to discrimination, pregnancy, caretaking responsibilities, and the effects of domestic and sexual violence.  Lower income individuals and families lack access to nutritious food: poorer neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets than wealthier neighborhoods, and nutritious food is generally more expensive than less nutritious food.   This lack of access to nutritious food results in poorer health, including malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other health conditions.

For the long term health of Pennsylvania’s citizens and its economy, DPW should think twice about limiting the poor’s access to nutritious food.  Urge Governor Corbett to stop efforts to implement this short-sighted, harmful asset test for SNAP.  The change will negatively affect the lives of real people for whom food stamps make the difference between having a nutritious meal and going hungry or resorting to unhealthy but less expensive food options.  The result for Pennsylvania could be an increase in the number of individuals who go hungry and who are more likely to suffer life-long health consequences.

To learn more about Pennsylvania’s proposal to institute a harmful asset test for SNAP benefits, check out the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.  To learn more about the impact of poverty on women’s health, stay tuned for the Women’s Law Project’s forthcoming report, Through the Lens of Equality: Gender Bias, Health, and a New Vision for Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Government, Welfare, Working poor

“Chaining” Social Security Would Harm Women

On July 11th President Obama urged congressional Democrats to make cuts to cost-of-living social security adjustments in return for Republican support for a tax raise. In the words of Maria Freese, Director of Government Relations of the Washington-based National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare in an interview with WeNews, “Proposing cuts in a self-financed program paid for by Americans throughout their working lives to get Republicans to close tax loopholes and end tax breaks for the wealthy few is not shared sacrifice.” While this cut in social security would be unfair to everyone, Richard Eskow points out that it would be particularly detrimental to minorities, lower-income people, and women.

Republicans want to replace current cost-of-living allowances (COLA) for social security with a “chained” cost of living index. This formula takes into account that when prices of goods go up, consumers substitute cheaper items for those that have become more costly. Eskow points out how dangerous this reasoning can be:

As a government agency explains, “Pork and beef are two separate CPI item categories. If the price of pork increases while the price of beef does not, consumers might shift away from pork to beef.” So if people can no longer afford pork, they’re spending less. Under a chained-CPI approach cost of living adjustments (COLAs) would then go down….

That’s not a sound way to calculate the overall cost of living. If I can’t afford cable TV and stop watching it, Time Warner’s prices don’t go down. But under this plan, my misfortune also becomes my little contribution to next year’s benefit cut.

How would this work for Social Security? Let’s see: If old people stop buying pork their “chained CPI” benefit will go down. If that forces them to live on catfood, their benefit goes down again…It’s a death spiral. Soon we’ll be calculating the cost of survival, not the cost of living. It’s a process that leads nowhere but down, until even survival is factored out of the equation.

If COLA were “chained,” a woman who received a $1,100 benefit at 65 would receive $56 dollars less per month by age 75. Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center told WeNews that by ” 90 that would mean $87 per month [decrease from the benefits received at age 65], an equivalent of 20 weeks of food a year.”

The negative effects of chaining the cost of living adjustments would be particularly detrimental to women “who receive less in benefits on average than men and can least afford the cuts. They live longer than men, too, so they’re more likely to see their benefits dwindle with every year that passes.” Some supporters of chaining COLA argue for a “birthday bump” that would entail small benefit increases after an individual has been retired for twenty years. However, this “bump” would not off-set all of the cuts individuals would have faced before then and would only benefit those who live long enough to receive the increased benefits. Since minorities and low-income people have lower life expectancies than their wealthier, white counterparts this plan would be particularly unfair to these communities.

Social security has not contributed to the national debt and its benefits have not been raised due to COLA in two years. However, some politicians are willing to reduce everyone’s benefits and risk increasing the number of women in poverty by “chaining” social security. We will keep you updated on this issue.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Government, Social Security