Thursday, February 2, 2012

Senior Advocate Calls on Governor Corbett to Reverse Policy

President of State Seniors’ Group Says New Food Stamp Rules will Hurt Families’ Efforts to Recover from Temporary Economic Problems

Jean Friday, President of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans, released the following statement regarding the imposition of new “asset tests” on food stamp benefits, which disqualify beneficiaries for having between $2000 and $4000 in savings, depending on age and other factors:

“The Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans would like to formally express our concern over Governor Corbett’s newly-announced policy to impose an asset limit on eligibility for food assistance in Pennsylvania. This policy, we believe, will leave deserving families without assistance, straining our local charities and food banks, while potentially causing some families to fall into far worse economic situations (and far more expensive for PA taxpayers).  Furthermore, we believe that this policy runs contrary to the idea that state assistance should not be a permanent situation for Pennsylvania families. 

“Pennsylvanians find themselves on food stamps for a variety of reasons.  Some are temporarily out of work, but don’t qualify for unemployment.  Some lose their income for medical reasons.  Others are simply retired but do not earn enough in Social Security or pension to get by.  Many families that are new to food stamps during this recession might have savings tucked away for their children’s college.  They might also have funds stored up in case of an emergency.  Many seniors on food stamps have savings as well.  These asset limits would force them to live on the edge, and even prevent seniors from saving up for their own funeral expenses, placing the burden back on their families.  Should we really force these families to abandon their college, emergency or even end-of-life savings before we help them eat?

“If the answer to that question is “no”, we have to assume that many of these people will decide to keep their assets in the hope that their situation recovers, and lose their benefits.  Of course this sounds like an effective cost-saving measure, but it should be noted that these benefits are almost completely federally funded, meaning the savings to the state would be minimal! Furthermore, I worry about the charitable organizations, food banks and others who are already struggling to make a difference during this deep recession.  How will our charity network cope with this new influx of needy?  When these groups divide their resources, this policy could end up impacting the extremely needy via chain reaction.

“This issue gets at the very heart of the welfare debate in this state and nation.  Many citizens believe, including many of our members, that too many people are “stuck” in a permanent cycle of government dependence.  This dependence is expensive to taxpayers and strikes many as unfair.  However, the administration’s proposed policy will not reverse this trend.  Instead, it will force those in temporary need into a situation that is more longstanding!  Under the new policy, a family on food stamps cannot save up for a used car that can expand their opportunities for jobs.  Under the new policy, a family on food stamps cannot save up to move where job opportunities are better.  Under the new policy, a family on food stamps cannot save up to send themselves back to community college to learn a new skill.  Modest savings are a tool that poor families can use to lift themselves out of poverty.  The new policy will rob them of that tool.  It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to make it harder for people to qualify for benefits but also make it harder to get off of them.  Obviously there is a level of savings at which these arguments become moot.  But that level is probably 10 times what the administration has suggested. 

“Finally, this policy may end up costing the state more than it saves in the long run.  In order to qualify for food stamp benefits that they desperately need, some families and seniors will choose to spend down their small savings in order to qualify for the program.  Once they do that, these people who were not eligible for Medicaid before may find themselves eligible for that program now as well!  In light of the recent expansion of Medicaid, do we really want to encourage people to lower their assets to the point where they might qualify?  This new policy may turn out to be penny-wise and pound-foolish in more ways than one.

“Families and Seniors who need help feeding themselves and their children shouldn’t have to deepen their poverty to satisfy these new requirements.  We call on the Governor not to doom these families to permanent welfare status just to score some political points!  For the long-term good of Pennsylvania, this new policy must not be enacted.”

The Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans has 300,000 members and 142 local affiliates across the Commonwealth.   For more information, please contact Adam Swope in our office at 202-341-7821; or visit

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