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 Furthermore, the asset limit applied in the test—$2,000 for most households and $3,250 for seniors—is outdated, having been originally proposed almost three decades ago, when families could afford more with less money.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.