PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Editorial: Food-stamp test a kick to the stomach

May 4, 2012

It’s hard enough to feed a family on food stamps, but this week Pennsylvania made it harder when it imposed an unreasonable asset test.

Flunking the asset test means going without food stamps, even if an individual or family meets the threshold of earning no more than 160 percent of the poverty level. Households with people under age 60 are limited to $5,500 in assets. Households with people 60 and above are limited to $9,000.

Houses, retirement benefits and one car are not counted, but a second car worth more than $4,650 would be. That means a family struggling to string together part-time jobs is penalized if the parents need separate cars to get to work.

Pennsylvania is turning temporary setbacks into long-term problems. The recently unemployed must drain their bank accounts before becoming eligible.

The stated reasons for imposing the test are to save money and attack fraud. But conducting the asset test will cost the program more money than it does to run it now. And the state’s fraud rate is already among the lowest in the nation.

Experts warn that welfare workers likely will make mistakes in determining eligibility, resulting in denying people food.

As Pennsylvania hurts families in its zeal to attack waste, fraud, and abuse, New Jersey offers a striking contrast in how it deals with people going through a rough patch.

This week, New Jersey celebrated the fourth year of an employee-financed, family-leave insurance program that allows workers to collect two-thirds of their weekly wages, up to $572, to care for newborns and sick relatives — because people shouldn’t lose their jobs to care for loved ones.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is kicking the poor and unemployed when they’re down. The legislature, which is still examining the governor’s budget, should reverse this cruel test.

Read the full article at www.philly.com.