You know it's a bad idea when even a prominent Pennsylvania Republican is asking Gov. Tom Corbett not to make citizens spend down all their assets before they're eligible for food stamps. When so many unemployed people in this economy are living off their savings, enforcing an assets cap is just plain cruel:
A top-ranking House Republican has added his voice to the list of those asking the Corbett Administration to reconsider its plan to check the assets of everyone now receiving or applying for food stamps in the future.
In a letter sent to the state Department of Public Welfare today, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo of Bucks County said there are better ways to check for fraud and abuse in the program, and that reinstatement of an assets test would be "moving backwards."
"I would like them not to do it, unless there's another explanation for it or something that I'm not seeing," said DiGirolamo, the chair of the House Human Services Committee.
The Corbett Administration plans to reinstate an asset test on May 1 as a way to ensure that people with a certain amount of cash or other assets top those dollars first before dipping into the pool of tax dollars.
Food stamp eligibility here is now defined solely by income.
If the state moves forward with the change, people under age 60 holding more than $5,500 in cash or certain other assets would lose eligibility for food stamps. For those age 60 and older, the threshold would be $9,000.
A person’s home, a first car or funds being saved for a child’s education would all be exempted from the assets test, but it could include a family’s second vehicle worth more than $4,650 and other personal property such as a boat or plane.
State Secretary of Public Welfare Gary Alexander, with Corbett’s approval, has stated he is on a mission to try to control costs in public welfare programs, calling present spending patterns unsustainable for the state and its taxpayers. A DPW spokesman had no comment on the lawmaker’s letter Friday, saying the secretary had not seen it.
DiGirolamo stressed Friday that he is on board with efforts to cut waste and abuse in welfare programs.
But given Pennsylvania’s historically strong compliance record in its food stamp program, the fact that the money comes directly from the federal government into Pennsylvania’s economy, and national trends are to move away from asset tests, DiGirolamo said he’s not sure this particular measure helps.
At a public hearing Thursday, a battery of witnesses argued that reinstating an asset test — last used for the food stamp program in Pennsylvania in 2008 — would change the program from being a support for all kinds of households having financial difficulties, to a last-resort service.