In the GOP’s concerted campaign against Americans who use food stamps, Republicans on every political level are searching for the fastest way to kick low-income people off the rolls. In Michigan, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder implemented a new eligibility rule that prevents anyone with more than $5,000 in a bank account or, in some cases a car, from receiving benefits.
Charmed by the idea, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is now bringing that “asset test” back to Pennsylvania. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Corbett’s administration announced that, starting May 1, anyone with more than $2,000 in assets will be disqualified from receiving benefits in order to ensure that “people with resources are not taking advantage of the food-stamp program”:
Specifically, the Department of Public Welfare said that as of May 1, 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 be exempt from being counted as assets. If a person owns a car, that vehicle also would also be exempt, but any additional vehicle worth more than $4,650 would be considered a countable asset.
Anne Bale, a spokeswoman for DPW, said the asset test was a way to ensure that “people with resources are not taking advantage of the food-stamp program,” funded by federal money.
In addition, Bale said, the test was related to DPW Secretary Gary Alexander’s initiative to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse across all department programs.
While 1.8 million Pennsylvanians are currently receiving food stamp benefits, “Pennsylvania has one of the lowest food-stamp fraud rates in the nation: one-tenth of 1 percent.” What’s more, 30 percent of those who qualify for food stamps are not in the program. Rather than address an real problem of “waste, fraud, and abuse,” the new rule, critics note, will only hurt “elderly people saving for their burials, poor people trying to save enough money to get out of poverty, and working-and middle-class people who lost their jobs in the recession and may now have to liquidate assets to feed their families.”
Indeed, as the number of beneficiaries continue to hit record highs during the recession, it seems particularly cruel and counterproductive to cut vulnerable people from the rolls. After all, one dollar in food stamps actually increases GDP by as much as $1.79. Perhaps that’s why former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) actually eliminated the state’s asset test at the onset of the recession in 2008, a move that not only helps the economy but also “streamlines administrative costs.”
Instead, Corbett is bringing back the state asset limit to a “comically low” $2,000, the same level it was in 1980. The limit, therefore, also ignores over 30 years of inflation. As the New America Foundation points out, $2,000 in 1980 is more than $5,400 today. But Corbett’s priorities don’t lie with the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, they lie with the corporations. While instituting corporate tax cuts for the gas and tobacco industries, Corbett slashes away at the social safety net people need most under the guise of “fraud.”