RESOLUTION OF THE PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION IN OPPOSITION TO REINSTATEMENT OF AN ASSET TEST IN THE FOOD STAMP PROGRAM

WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) on December 28, 2011, informed the federal Food and Nutrition Service that it intends to reinstate an asset test in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), effective May 1, 2012;

WHEREAS, this newly reintroduced asset test would make families ineligible for SNAP benefits if they have more than $2,000 in savings, and would make households with an elderly or disabled member ineligible if they have more than $3,250 in savings;

WHEREAS, on February 2, 2012, DPW announced that it was modifying its proposal to make families ineligible if they have more than $5,500 in savings, and households with an elderly or disabled member ineligible if they have more than $9,000 in savings;

WHEREAS, this policy would discourage poor families from saving, in spite of strong evidence that savings help families overcome sudden household misfortunes, orient toward the future, and reduce intergenerational poverty;

WHEREAS, this policy would require families faced with sudden reduction in income to drain their savings before receiving nutrition assistance – thereby losing the cushion that could help the family regain its footing;

WHEREAS, thirty-seven other states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, have eliminated the asset test in the SNAP program;

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania already successfully applies a means test, as required by federal law, which measures a person’s income to determine SNAP eligibility and there are no plans to eliminate this means test;

WHEREAS, 879,000 households in Pennsylvania now receive SNAP benefits every month, receiving an average of $265 per month in SNAP benefits;

WHEREAS, this policy would require each of the 879,000 households to prove to the County Assistance Offices at least yearly that their assets are below the $5,500 / $9,000 asset limit, by providing bank statements and proof of the equity value of second vehicles;

WHEREAS, the Department of Public Welfare estimated that two percent of households would become ineligible for SNAP benefits under its original proposal, and estimates that about 4,000 households would be made ineligible under the revised asset limits;

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania has more than 2.4 million senior citizens, the 4th largest percentage in the nation, with an over-85 age population growing at 10 times the general population, and seniors would be especially hard-hit by this policy, which may disqualify thousands of the over 170,000 Pennsylvania seniors on low, fixed incomes who currently rely on SNAP benefits to address food scarcity and other escalating costs of living, and to purchase nutritious food, critical to helping elders prevent chronic diseases, avoid institutional care and increased Medicaid costs to the Commonwealth;

WHEREAS, 21.6 percent of households with children in Pennsylvania were unable to afford enough food in 2009-10, and this policy would disqualify children from SNAP who need nutritious food to grow and learn;

WHEREAS, reimposing the asset test would cost, not save, money for the Commonwealth, because SNAP benefits are 100% federally-funded, while the state pays half the costs of administering the program, including half the costs of staff;

WHEREAS, the loss of federal SNAP dollars would harm Pennsylvania’s economy and likely cost jobs in the supermarket and agriculture industries, as every $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.73 in economic activity;

WHEREAS, the asset test would require County Assistance Offices (CAOs) to collect and verify information about the assets for 879,000 households, placing an unnecessary burden on the CAO staff, which has declined 14% since 2002, while the SNAP caseload has more than doubled;

WHEREAS, the asset test will not reduce fraud, and Pennsylvania already has one of the lowest SNAP fraud rates in the nation, at less than 1 percent, according to the USDA;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Philadelphia Bar Association urges the Governor, the Department of Public Welfare, and the General Assembly to reject or rescind any proposal to reinstate a SNAP asset test in Pennsylvania in light of its harmful effects on low-income seniors and families, the Commonwealth’s economy, and the workload of County Assistance Office staff;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Chancellor or his designee is authorized to make known the position of the Philadelphia Bar Association to the Governor, the Department of Public Welfare, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the public and the media, and to take such other action in furtherance of this resolution as may be appropriate and necessary.

PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: February 21, 2012