PRESS RELEASE: Pennsylvania plans to bar families with savings from food stamps

January 10, 2012

(Philadelphia, PA)--Low-income families with modest savings would no longer qualify for food stamps in Pennsylvania, under a policy change the state Department of Public Welfare plans to enact on May 1, 2012. Families with as little as $2,000 in assets ($3,250 for seniors or people with disabilities) would be barred from getting benefits, potentially cutting tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians from the program.  

Seniors and people who’ve recently lost their jobs—two groups that are more likely than others to have savings—would especially be affected. In addition to making it harder for low-income families to afford food in this tough economy, the asset test would result in a loss of tens of millions of dollars in federal SNAP dollars to Pennsylvania.

“We all know that families need to save money to get off government assistance and achieve self-sufficiency, said Carey Morgan, Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. “So it’s not only cruel, but counterproductive to force people to drain their savings before they can get any help. Someone with less than $2,000 in the bank would easily be wiped out by one visit to the emergency room.” 

The City of Philadelphia, local supermarkets and small businesses have joined community organizations to urge Gov. Tom Corbett to stop the asset test. Thirty-eight states have no asset test requirement for SNAP. In fact, Pennsylvania eliminated its own asset test in 2008, as the recession took hold and a growing number of families struggled to find work.   

If the Corbett administration imposes an asset test , Pennsylvania could lose tens of millions of dollars each year in federally funded SNAP benefits—money that would otherwise be pumped into the economy as those benefits are spent at grocery stores, farmers’ markets and convenience stores that employ half a million people across the Commonwealth. Because every $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.73 in economic activity, Pennsylvania stands to lose millions more under the plan.  

An asset test would also cost Pennsylvania more taxpayer money to administer the program, including required technological upgrades, additional training and staff time. Nearly 850,000 households that currently receive SNAP would also have to file paperwork on their assets, placing further strain on already understaffed County Assistance Offices.

“An asset test for food assistance is bad public policy,” Morgan said. “Considering the human and economic toll, there’s no rational explanation for the state to impose an asset test in this economy.”