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New State Requirements will Mandate Asset Tests for Those Seeking Food Stamps

Starting in May, Pennsylvanians under 60 will only be able to receive food stamps if they have less than $2,000 in savings and don't own multiple vehicles. Taking such assets into account is a way, officials said, of weeding out fraud in the program. Houses and retirement benefits would be exempt, but second cars with a value of more than $4,650 would count.

"Money is very, very tight, both in state government and the federal government," said Anne Bale, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, "and at this time we need to ensure that those who are most in need are getting this benefit, and those who have other means should reconsider applying for food stamps."

But critics of the asset test say that it will hurt seniors and the newly unemployed while making it harder for the working poor to save enough money to escape poverty. Still, Bale maintained, the goal is to prevent those who do not need the benefits from receiving them, and pointed to constant complaints that the department gets about people using food stamps but seem to be "living large" in other areas of life.

"We'll be looking at personal property. What type of property do they have? We'll be looking at vehicles: how many cars they have, do they have any boats or aircrafts or all-terrain vehicles? Those will be the types of assets we will be looking at if someone is applying for food stamps," said Bale.

It's not clear how those assets will be measured at this point — whether it will be up to county case workers or self-reporting. Bale said that if someone gets turned down for having too many assets, that doesn't mean they'll never qualify. "If, for some reason, their asset situation changes, they can reapply for food stamps, and if they qualify, they will receive the benefit."

Bale said that DPW estimates that 2 percent of the 1.8 million Pennsylvanians receiving food stamps would be affected by the asset test.