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State May Require Asset Test to Qualify For Food Assistance

Starting in May, Pennsylvania will likely join a minority of states that check to see if people have too much in savings to qualify for federal food stamps.

Some 43 jurisdictions, including states, territories, and Washington, D.C., have eliminated the so-called "asset test."

Ellen Vollinger of the Food and Research Action Center, an anti-hunger non-profit, said the national trend has moved away from using this type of tool in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. She said such testing makes it trickier to apply for and approve the benefits.

"One of the reasons that states have gone the path that they've gone is not only does it make it a simpler, streamlined process for the client who's applying for SNAP, but it also makes it a more streamlined process administratively for the state to handle," Vollinger said.

The test checks for an upper limit of $5,500 for savings and other assets in Pennsylvania. Seniors and disabled people can't have more than $9,000 in savings.

Vollinger said welfare program offices are already seeing delays nationwide as they try to keep up with demand for federal benefits, and this would make benefits applications and approval more complex.

"Anything that slows it down further at a time when so many people are struggling with economic difficulties and food hardship is a step in the wrong direction. So while they said that this is final, we really would hope that they would take another look at it," she said.

Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander says it will ensure limited resources go to the neediest people.

Idaho, Texas, Nebraska and Michigan also use asset tests. Michigan established a $5,000 dollar asset test last fall, and recently scaled back its rules for food stamps recipients who have more than one car.

"They still do count some portion of a vehicle value for a second car, but they learned very early in their implementation that counting the value of the first vehicle was going to be something that was going to interfere with the program administration." Vollinger said.