A Tale of a Safety Net in Jeopardy

We welcome Janet Ney, former Associate Executive Director of CACLV.  For over 28 years, Janet has enjoyed working in a variety of positions and currently she serves as the Coordinator of Advocacy and Outreach for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania.  Janet is a founding member of the Pennsylvania Association of Regional Food Banks, (now called Hunger-Free Pennsylvania), serving at its President for two terms. In the past, she was a longtime member of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center, having served as its President when it was known as the Pennsylvania Coalition on Food and Nutrition. Currently, she is a member of the Allentown Human Relations Commission, serving as Chairperson.  Thanks for contributing!

 

You are, or could be, the subject of this tale…

Six months ago, you lost your job. You’re a middle-income, middle management person with a house, a family of four people, and some modest savings in the bank.  Your spouse continues to work, part time, at just a little more than minimum wage.  You own two cars because your work schedules didn’t coincide and public transportation wasn’t available.

So, with only Unemployment Compensation and your spouse’s modest income, cash is short. You’ve tightened your belt but you’re trying to keep up with your housing costs – mortgage or rent – to avoid homelessness, a condition that seems so remote to your life as you’ve seen it to date. And, you need to make sure that you and your family can get medical care and pay for prescriptions. To maintain your health, you and your family want to eat regularly, if less sumptuously.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is right for you. SNAP used to be called food stamps. Whatever the name, it’s a simple, cost-effective, and highly responsive program in this current economic downturn.

Your struggles to keep your head above water until you find a new job is going to get more difficult on May 1st.  That’s when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will reinstate an assets test for SNAP participants.  You have a little more than $5500 in the bank and that second family vehicle is worth about $5000. With those assets, you will no longer be eligible for the program. What will you do to feed your family?

This is not the story of a real person but the outcome – the loss of an important, life-supporting benefit – will be real when Pennsylvania brings back the assets test. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare has decided that this test is needed to reduce “waste, fraud, and abuse.” despite the fact that, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania’s fraud rate is less than 1%.

The Department of Public Welfare’s original proposal set a limit on cash assets of $2000 for under-60 participants and $3250 for those over the age of 60. Bowing to pressure, the administration in Harrisburg raised the limits to $5500 for under 60 and $9000 for over 60. This change recognizes that participants should not have to deplete their savings before being able to get some help putting food on the table.

Nevertheless, changing the rules is likely to cost more to implement than it will save. An already overburdened DPW staff will need to be retrained and computers will need to be retooled; inevitably, a system that is already experiencing delays from overload will force applicants to wait even longer for approval to participate. With the new limits, fewer people will be removed from the program but the paperwork will need to be shuffled for every participant.

SNAP is an important part of our economy that supports grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and small businesses. Every dollar in SNAP benefits generates $1.73 in economic activity. Cutting off a portion of federally-funded food stamps will mean a local loss estimated in the millions.

We think that reinstating the assets test is WRONG; we hope you’ll JOIN US in getting that word to Governor Corbett (Governor@pasen.gov).

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