Star Tribune (Minnesota)
March 6, 2010
A bill at the Legislature would eliminate the asset test for food stamps, so families wouldn't have to deplete their savings to qualify.
Many government programs have requirements for families to spend down much of their savings before they can qualify for temporary assistance. Advocates say these tests undermine a family's ability to bounce back from financial setbacks in the future.
Minnesota's food support program -- better known as food stamps -- is a case in point. To qualify for the assistance, Minnesotans need to have assets below $7,000 -- which amounts to a few months of mortgage payments for many.
"These are really troubled times and people maybe just need help for just a short period," said Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota. "We don't want to throw people into abject poverty forever."
A draft study on hunger from Second Harvest Heartland found that if the food stamp test was eliminated, between 75,000 and 87,000 low-income Minnesotans would qualify for the public assistance. That would bring an estimated $154 million in economic activity into the state, as families buy more food and stores hire more workers. The federal government pays for the food stamp program, though states set their own rules and administer it.
"These are the families in the shadows ... the families that are really on the edge and may have $7,000 now but won't have $7,000 in a month or two," said Jessica Webster, a former lobbyist for the Legal Services Advocacy Project who was active on this issue, but recently resigned to run for a legislative seat in St. Paul.
Other states already have killed their asset tests. As of December, 21 states had no asset test for food stamps, two had no asset test for most, and another seven had plans to drop theirs, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
"We really have fallen behind," Webster said.