Introduces Legislation to Preserve Pennsylvania’s Families

Citing the Corbett Administration’s policy proposal to place an asset limit on Pennsylvania’s families to determine eligibility for food stamps, state Senator Anthony H. Williams today introduced SB 1387, which would prohibit the implementation of regulations that would penalize Pennsylvanians who participate in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

Currently, Pennsylvanians who earn 160 percent of the federal poverty level ($22,350 for a family of four) or less are eligible for SNAP benefits. The policy change would deem a recipient under age 60 who has more than $2,000 in savings and assets ineligible.

“With so many Pennsylvanians suffering long-term unemployment, implementing an asset limit makes their situation doubly cruel,” said Williams. “It is inhumane to invoke fear upon people who are trying to get back on their feet by telling them their safety net will be snatched.”

As of December 2011, an average of 1.8 million Pennsylvanians received SNAP benefits in the first six months of the current fiscal year, compared to a monthly average of 1.7 million people for FY 2010-2011 according to Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) statistics.

The $2,000 federal “resource test” had been in place since 1986 and was abolished in 2008. Currently, 35 states have abolished asset caps to help individuals and families fend off the slow destruction of their savings due to prolonged unemployment.

“In an attempt to please a narrow band of zealots, the Corbett Administration has set itself on a path to punish Pennsylvanians,” said Williams. “Far from some mythical inner city ‘welfare queen,’ SNAP recipients more often than not look like our neighbors, because many of our neighbors are still struggling because of this economy. That’s the profile of actual SNAP recipients – like our neighbors in Fulton County, which has the highest unemployment rate in the Commonwealth. Or our neighbors in Cameron and Carbon Counties where double digit unemployment plagues citizens trying to find work. In fact 27 of our counties suffer higher unemployment rates than the state average, many of them rural – hardly the demographic we usually equate with food stamps,” he added. “Rather than offer a lifeline, this administration would sink the whole boat.”

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), most SNAP participants are children or seniors. Nearly half (47 percent) were under age 18 and another 8 percent were age 60 or older. Nearly 30 percent of SNAP households nationwide had earnings in 2010, the primary source of income, and the majority of SNAP households did not receive cash welfare benefits.

Pennsylvania currently has one of the lowest SNAP fraud rates in the nation: less than 1 percent, according to the USDA. An asset test would strain already understaffed County Assistance Offices by requiring additional human, financial and technological resources.

“There is no evidence for waste, fraud or abuse to be at the basis of this decision. The number is infinitesimal compared to the benefits to our communities,” said Williams. “It’s absurd to spend Pennsylvania’s tax dollars to send federal money back to Washington.”

Couple increased operational costs with the loss of economic benefits from SNAP and Pennsylvanians face a lose-lose situation. Every $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9 in economic activity in local supermarkets and small grocery stores, according to the USDA.

The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee touted SNAP in November as a critical support to individuals and families during these hard economic times and particularly valuable for the long-term unemployed and their families since the program is one of only a few sources of public support for those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. More than one in five workers unemployed for over six months received SNAP benefits last year.

“In tight economic times, we work harder to root our fraud, waste and abuse, but in the process, we cannot erase the fabric of our community, fairness for our neighbors who are working to do the right thing,” said Williams. “We should be working to preserve rather than deny dignified survival.”

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