ABOVE PHOTO: Congressman Bob Brady addresses crowds, along with Sen. Shirley Kitchen (background far left), and other officials about SNAP at the SHARE offices, 2901 W. Hunting Park Ave.
(Photo by Martin Regusters)
State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, along with elected officials including U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, joined various organizations in Philadelphia today to discuss the devastating impact of the Corbett administration’s plan to implement an asset test on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.
The officials made their comments at Self-Help and Resource Exchange (SHARE) Food Program at 2901 W. Hunting Park Ave., an organization that allows individuals to exchange volunteer time for the opportunity to buy affordable food.
“The Corbett administration’s efforts to undermine our most vulnerable citizens is a disgrace,” said Kitchen (D -3rd dist.), who is the Democratic chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. “His proposal only demoralizes families who are trying to survive and punishes those who are trying to save precious dollars for a better life.”
Under the administration’s plan, any SNAP recipient under the age of 60 who has more than $2,000 in savings and assets, including cash, stocks, bonds and money in checking and savings accounts, would no longer qualify. Individuals who are over 60 or disabled who have $3,250 in savings and assets would no longer qualify.
Approximately 460,000 Philadelphians rely on SNAP.
This proposal bucks a national trend in SNAP eligibility. Today, 35 states have abolished their asset tests because of pervasive long-term unemployment. Pennsylvania at one time had asset tests but dissolved them in 2008.
Pennsylvania has a solid record on accountability, with a SNAP error rate of less than 4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The Department of Public Welfare claims to be rooting out fraud and waste. I’d like to see the numbers detailing the actual amount of so-called fraud and waste,” Kitchen said. “The federal government recognizes that we are ensuring that folks are receiving proper benefits. The Corbett administration should focus on helping people, rather than finding ways to keep them in the cycle of poverty.”
State Sen. Vincent Hughes said the federal government already mandates income limits for SNAP enrollment, so asset test are a waste of time and administrative costs.
“This is a misguided policy that does a disservice to the needs of Pennsylvania citizens,” said Hughes (D-7th dist.). “Punishing low- and middle-income individuals for trying to lift themselves out of poverty is not only cruel, but also completely unnecessary.”
Nationally, nearly 75 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children and more than a quarter of participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Nearly one-third of SNAP recipients work, according to the USDA.
The administration’s proposal would not only hurt the individuals who rely on SNAP, but also the industries that supply SNAP recipients with their groceries, like Pennsylvania farmers and supermarkets, according to John Weidman, deputy executive director of the Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit working to provide access to affordable, nutritious food.
“This proposed regulation will kill jobs and hurt businesses across the Commonwealth,” Weidman said. “SNAP is a vital part of the progress Pennsylvania has made to increase the number of farmers’ markets and supermarkets in underserved areas. These asset tests will hurt those efforts.”
The officials also discussed the issues with the Department of Public Welfare’s (DPW) recent purge of individuals from Medical Assistance, which provides health care services for 2 million eligible Pennsylvanians, the majority of whom are elderly or disabled.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Dec. 15, 2011 that 150,000 people —including 43,000 children — had been cut from Medical Assistance since August 2011.
The 2011-12 state budget mandated that DPW make more than $470 million in cuts.
“Again, DPW maintains that it is working to ‘root out fraud and waste,’ yet it has yet to produce solid numbers on any fraud and waste in DPW programs,” Kitchen said. “Meanwhile, children, the elderly and disabled individuals and their loved ones are enduring the agony of losing their lifeline and scrambling to re-apply. It’s shameful.”
Pennsylvania’s Medicaid error rate in 2009 was 4.07 percent, compared to a national average of 8.98 percent, according to an analysis by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Kitchen said she will call for public hearings to investigate the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare’s process for cutting costs and eliminating fraud and waste.