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PA.’s Food Stamp Asset Test Gets Prominent Pushback

By Alfried Lubrano
Inquirer Staff Writer
Read the original post of this article.

 

Pennsylvania’s plan to make people’s food-stamp eligibility contingent on the assets they own has drawn the ire of U.S. Rep. Robert Brady and union officials, who describe the proposal as ill-conceived and costly.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Brady, the Philadelphia Democrat, said in an interview Friday. “We’re trying to figure out hunger, and this drops us back to square one. I don’t think they really thought this through.”

Brady’s voice was one of many raised last week on the Internet, radio, and in newspapers, against the Department of Public Welfare plan.

Also last week, people in the union representing county-assistance workers – who would have to implement the asset test – called it time-consuming and expensive.

The plan, first reported Tuesday by The Inquirer, states that people under 60 with more than $2,000 in savings and other assets would no longer be eligible for food stamps. For people over 60, the limit would be $3,250.

Houses and retirement benefits would not be counted as assets.

Union officials also say an asset test is bound to cost Pennsylvania more money.

“The major cost we will see is in actual hours, which will go up tremendously,” said Donna Scarboro, business agent for Service Employees International Union Local 668 in Philadelphia, which represents caseworkers.

She said that “the cars will be a big thing,” as caseworkers are asked to assess whether second cars fall below $4,650, and then deal with clients’ appeals of the findings.

If a person owns a car, that vehicle also would be exempt, but any additional vehicle worth more than $4,650 would be counted.

“All of a sudden, the state is in the used-car business?” Brady said. “And you save a lousy $2,000 and then you’re off food stamps?”

On Thursday, Brady wrote a letter to Gov. Corbett calling the asset test “devastating and counterproductive.” He said it would burden an “already overworked county-assistance workforce” and damage the state’s food industry, including grocers.

Brady represents the First Congressional District, one of the hungriest places in the nation. He followed up his letter with a call to Corbett, and said he was awaiting an answer.

Welfare department spokeswoman Anne Bale said Friday that the asset test was needed to “stretch every dollar to make sure we are funding only the people most in need. It’s just making sure that people with means are not on the program.”

Earlier last week, Bale said the asset test was related to Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander’s initiative to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse across the department.

That statement has been challenged by Brady as well as union officials, who note that the fraud rate in Pennsylvania’s food-stamp program is 0.1 percent, among the lowest in the nation. The state has won an award for its efficiency in running the program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Union officials also say an asset test is bound to cost Pennsylvania more money.

“The major cost we will see is in actual hours, which will go up tremendously,” said Donna Scarboro, business agent for Service Employees International Union Local 668 in Philadelphia, which represents caseworkers.

She said that “the cars will be a big thing,” as caseworkers are asked to assess whether second cars fall below $4,650, and then deal with clients’ appeals of the findings.

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