News

April 23, 2015

LAMPa Applauds End of SNAP Asset Test

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania applauds Governor Tom Wolf for acting in the first hundred days of his administration to eliminate the onerous asset test for recipients of the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP). The SNAP Asset Test has created the single largest barrier to food security for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, resulting in many eligible households losing benefits to essential nutrition.

The test was instituted in May 2012, despite a SNAP fraud rate of less than 1%. Former Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander insisted the asset test was essential to root waste, fraud, and abuse out of the program.

Along with other hunger advocates, LAMPa sprang into action to oppose these changes. LAMPa brought faith voices to testify at hearings, including Rich Gitlen, Vice President of Community Services at Liberty Lutheran and Executive Director of Lutheran Children and Family Service (read the testimony below). This advocacy did not halt the institution of the test, but did result in raising the asset caps to $5,500 (from $2,000) for most households and $9,000 (from $3,250) for elderly/disabled households.

The result was that all 1.8 million Pennsylvanians who receive SNAP were required to verify their assets at the time of application and re-certification. This verification requirement created unnecessary red tape for applicants and recipients and deterred some households from applying for benefits. The asset test also increased the workload for caseworkers and incurred $3.5 Million in administrative costs to carry out these additional tasks. During the first year of the test, nearly 4,000 households lost or were denied benefits, according to state reports. In that same period, 111,000 eligible households were denied benefits simply because they failed to provide proper documentation for the asset test.

Eliminating the asset test was at the top of LAMPa’s hunger advocacy goals and a already a topic of discussions held this year with the Wolf administration.  The asset test prevented people living in poverty who had built up a small amount of resources from accessing vital food assistance when they needed it most. It simultaneously discouraged them from saving what they could for the future, limiting savings to amounts so small that they provided only the thinnest cushion in an emergency.

The Rev. Amy Reumann, LAMPa director, commented “As Lutherans called to feed those who hunger, we must speak up when neighbors are prevented from accessing the food they to which they are entitled. This test placed unnecessary barriers and created costly delays for people in need, while creating unnecessary costs for the state. It was a lose-lose from the start. We are grateful that Governor Wolf has taken swift action to end this barrier. Good riddance to a bad policy.”

How many SNAP recipients are in your county? See the map at the end of this Patriot News article.

 

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE HOUSE HUMAN SERVICES COMMITTEE, Tuesday, March 15, 2012

My name is Richard Gitlen and I am the Vice President for Community Services at Liberty Lutheran and the Executive Director of Lutheran Children and Family Service. I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to testify regarding asset testing for the SNAP program. By providing this testimony I hope that I can convey to you how important the SNAP program is to our clients and how asset testing might adversely affect them.
Last year Liberty Lutheran provided services to over 49,000 children, families, and seniors through its dynamic array of community-based, residential, and in-home medical and nonmedical services. As the Vice President for Community Services I maintain responsibility for Lutheran Children and Family Service and Lutheran Congregational Services, which serve more than 43,000 people throughout the eastern tier of the state. Lutheran Children and Family Service, serving Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, provides services to newly arrived immigrants and refugees, foster children and their families , adoptive parents, first-time mothers needing nursing care, out-of-school unemployed youth, families with abuse and neglect issues, truant children, and seniors using our community-based senior centers. Lutheran Congregational Services, located in Allentown, serves thousands throughout the year through its warehousing-distribution ministry to low-income families, disaster-response work, small-group grief-support and marriage-preparedness services, and a full array of support services to members in over 400 congregations in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Many of our clients in Eastern PA. experience the impact of intergenerational poverty. They often live at the poverty level or barely above it and struggle to survive in neighborhoods that are riddled with violence, limited health care options, underachieving schools, and poor housing conditions. They are the working poor that struggle from pay check to pay check, they are newly arrived refugees and immigrants that are struggling to make a new life here in the U.S and they are seniors with limited resources, fixed incomes and mounting expenses. Like many other members of our community they often rely on governmental programs like food stamps that allow them to stay afloat and like many of our fellow citizens they try to put something away for a rainy day. Consequently asset testing can be detrimental as they try to stretch minimal assets to meet their family needs.
Let me give you three examples of the potential impact of the proposed asset testing for the SNAPS program and what I believe what may be its unintended adverse consequence.
The LCFS refugee programs assist persons who have fled persecution in their home countries and who arrive in this country as refugees, eager to start their lives again in a new country. Over 70% become employed within the first 180 days after arrival. Early employment, however, does not mean early family self-sufficiency.  Food stamps are a crucial support for family survival. Through diligent labor and family and community supports, refugee families are at times able to build up assets that help them to get through significant obstacles in their new country while helping them to move up the economic ladder.   The proposed SNAP asset testing would be a tremendous disincentive for newly arrived families eager to work towards their hope for a piece of the American Dream.  It would punish families who are able to scrimp to improve their lives and it would increase hunger in our state which has benefited tremendously through the hope and hard work of persons who are starting over.
In addition to services for newcomers LCFS and LCS provide extensive services to seniors in our community based programs. These older adults worked a lifetime to build our communities raise families and look forward to retirement. Unfortunately, retirement has not been easy for many. Trying to manage rising costs like house repairs, health care and food living on social security, limited pensions is difficult. We see them daily at our senior centers or our food banks looking for food or hot meals to stretch their limited resources. Some need to access our emergency funds, supplied by private foundations, to make repairs to their houses pay for prescriptions or buy food. Some tell us stories about skipping or diluting medications to make ends stretch. Asset testing will potentially devastate their modest savings and force them into a more vulnerable situation as they grow older and more infirmed.
Finally we work with many young parents trying to take care of their families and stretch limited dollars.  Many are the working poor and because of limited or developing job skills, they move in and out of employment. Food stamps offer them the opportunity to supplement their diet while continuing to work and save to escape the stranglehold of poverty. Families save dollars to pay for essentials such as clothing for their children, groceries above what is supported by food stamps, medical care, and a variety of daily living needs. Knowing how volatile the job market, our social workers encourage them to do what we are all instructed to do by economic advisors SAVE MONEY. Unfortunately, asset testing is a determinant to this and in fact counter intuitive to what we expect of everyone to do to survive in difficult times. By asset testing food stamps we will discourage savings and maintain people in a perpetual cycle of poverty while certainly increasing pressures on the food bank system which already is being strained
Again I want to thank the committee for allowing me to testify and hope that you will consider my remarks.

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