More Harm than Good (cutting Food Stamp benefits)

From the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (http://www.pennbpc.org):

Posted by Christopher Lilienthal on March 16, 2012 5:14 pm

David J. Hepfinger, the CEO of Sunbury-based Weis Markets, has a great op-ed in today’s Harrisburg Patriot-News explaining what a bad idea it is to impose an assets test on people who are seeking food assistance:

We can clearly see how the poor economy impacts our customers at Weis Markets. Today, they are making fewer shopping trips, buying in smaller sizes, switching from beef to poultry and, sadly, purchasing fewer diapers and more ointment despite an unchanged birth rate.

As a result of the poor economy, the demand for food assistance in Pennsylvania increased 56 percent during the last four years. Today, about 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP) help. …

As are many of our customers, SNAP recipients are purchasing staple items to feed their families. Our best-selling SNAP items include large loaves of white bread, milk, bananas, ground beef, eggs and potatoes.

It is clear that our customers are using their SNAP benefits properly. Yet in a misguided attempt to prevent fraud, the Department of Public Welfare wants to make it harder for our neighbors and customers to qualify for or retain their SNAP benefits.

Mr. Hepfinger is referring to the asset test, which will go into effect in May. It means that anyone under age 60 with $5,500 in the bank or in other assets ($9,000 for those over 60) will no longer be eligible for food stamps. Houses, retirement benefits and a single vehicle are not counted. A second car worth $4,650 or more will be counted.

Mr. Hepfinger notes that SNAP spending has doubled to 6% of Weis Markets store sales during the economic downturn. And that underrepresents the need out there because 30% of people who are eligible for food assistance don’t even sign up for it.

As Mr. Hepfinger concludes in his op-ed:

DPW also says asset testing will only result in 4,000 families losing their SNAP funding. We think that puts too many families at risk and worry the actual number might be higher. Asset testing also could discourage many other people from applying for the food assistance they need.

Ultimately, DPW’s asset testing plan could cause more problems than it solves. A better solution would be for DPW to rely on its existing and thorough SNAP application and enforcement process, which has resulted in record low fraud. This would allow it to cost effectively serve the most vulnerable of our citizens during a time of high unemployment and slow job growth.

We couldn’t agree more.

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