VICTORY! Gov. Wolf eliminates the Food Stamp Asset Test!

victory!You can’t hear us, but staff at Just Harvest are whooping with joy. Yesterday evening, Gov. Wolf announced he was ending the state’s unfair, wasteful, and completely unnecessary food stamp asset test. The change, which does not require legislation or approval from the state legislature, will go into effect Monday, April 27.

The asset test limits eligibility for the food stamp (SNAP) program, one of the most effective anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs in the country.

Just Harvest Food Stamp Specialist James Tedrow said, “As someone who does dozens of food stamp applications a month, I can assure the public that the asset test only served to place undue burdens on those simply trying to provide themselves food security.”

The extra paperwork the asset test requires was also burdensome for Department of Human Services employees, leading to unnecessary delays for those desperate for food assistance. This contributed to PA being among the worst in the nation for its slow application processing, which had resulted in the state being placed under federal corrective action.

“The end of the food stamp asset test is long overdue,” said Joanne Sessa, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU Local 668 and a former welfare caseworker. “This misguided and ideologically-driven policy has unfairly penalized Pennsylvanians for years. Governor Wolf has put families first, ensuring that struggling families can receive the benefits they need.”

While other states are putting up barriers to food stamps access (or placing needless restrictions on what people on food stamps can purchase with them) PA has taken a huge step in the direction of compassion and good governance:

The elimination of the SNAP asset test will save millions in state funds and better protects Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable. The case closures disproportionately impacted households with a disabled individual or an older Pennsylvanian.

The anticipated state savings from eliminating the asset test are $3.5 million annually. This will also remove unnecessary administrative burdens and costs to the commonwealth, as well as increased errors that could potentially result in federal sanctions for the state.

In 2008, changes in federal law had allowed then-Gov. Rendell to eliminate the state’s restrictive food stamp asset test. In 2012, over the loud and continuing protests of Just Harvest and its allies, former governor Tom Corbett made PA one of a minority of states to put a food stamp asset test back in place.

This was a disastrous change in policy for the one in seven Pennsylvanians (1.7 million people) who at any given time rely on food stamps to put food on their table.

Under federal guidelines, food stamp applicants in Pennsylvania must still go through a rigorous process which includes submitting nearly a dozen documents and forms to show that their income (or lack thereof) places them no higher than just above the poverty line (130% of poverty). The PA asset test required all food stamp applicants to also submit bank statements for checking and savings accounts and vehicle registration(s) to show that their savings and second cars (if they have them) are worth below $5,500 ($9,000 for seniors).

Before the test was imposed, even the Corbett administration admitted that fewer than 1 in 200 food stamp recipients have such assets. The average food stamp applicant has only $331 in the bank.

Hunger expert Mariana Chilton of Drexel University’s School of Public Health is among many applauding the state’s decision. “This will allow people who are low-income to be encouraged to save money and build their own safety nets,” she said.

As one Department of Human Services employee put it, “This will save us so much time and effort – and will prevent us rejecting SNAP applications when people can’t prove the rusted-out Chevy in their back yard under the Elm Tree isn’t worth anything. We’re all so happy!”

Ending the asset test fulfilled another of Wolf’s campaign promises to Pennsylvania’s anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates, the first being the ending of another of Corbett’s disastrous policies: Healthy PA – his take on Medicaid expansion.

In recent months, Just Harvest had urged the Wolf administration in two sets of public recommendations and in private meetings and communications to eliminate the asset test sooner rather than later.

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