Fueled by News: Asset test will hurt food stamp recipients

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Joe Petro, Opinion Co-Editor

Pennsylvania State Department of Public Welfare confirmed January 10 that food stamp recipients will now undertake an asset test to evaluate their eligibility.

The 31,101 people in Lackawanna County receiving food stamps will undergo a tedious asset test that will determine if their family will continue to receive assistance based on their assets. Citizens under the age of 60 with $2,000 in assets and savings will become ineligible to receive food stamps and senior citizens over 60 will be allowed $3,250 in assets and those exceeding will be ineligible to receive food stamps.

Gary Drapek, president of the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne counties, was quoted recently in The Scranton Times-Tribune, saying, “I can’t understand it. I can’t understand the rationale behind it.’

The Department of Welfare is justifying these asset tests by saying it will eliminate or lessen the fraud and abuse of the food stamp assistance. However, many families that are not abusing the use of food stamps will be eliminated due to their high-income level or value of their assets.

For those who are going to be removed from food stamp benefits, this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The food stamps these families receive may be the small bit of assistance that allows them to not end up homeless or at a food shelter each night. These families may have to make the tough choice between paying for food or shelter in the upcoming months.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the unemployment rate in Lackawanna County as of November 2011 was 8.3 percent. Under this circumstance, it is a premature and hasty decision to place restrictions on food stamps.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, under this new plan retirement benefits and houses would not count as assets. The primary car owned by food stamp recipients would be exempt, but secondary vehicles with a value exceeding $4,650 would be a countable asset. But how will the Department of Welfare determine which car is the primary source of transportation and which would be considered the secondary means of transportation for these families?

According to the Department of Welfare, 2 percent of the 1.8 million Pennsylvanians, receiving food stamps will be affected by this asset test. According to The Scranton Times-Tribune, these same asset tests were eliminated by the Rendell administration in 2008 because they were hurting seniors and others. The Department of Welfare will be faced with the harsh realization that the same result will follow these asset tests. To try the same approach to the problem and end up with the same results is blatantly irresponsible and a waste of time and taxpayer money.

In a country with economic turmoil, our government should provide more financial assistance to those in need such as those who require food stamps, clothing, and shelter. If our government will not provide the necessities poverty stricken or homeless citizens need, then as a community, we need to step forward to assist our fellow citizens. We can assist the less fortunate by donating unused food, clothing, monies, or other necessities to pantries or soup kitchens. If we stand by and do nothing, we are no better than the government we are criticizing.