State's new 'asset test' should stop food stamp fraud

Pa. welfare recipients soon required to pass 'asset test'

READING, Pa. - People on food stamps will soon have to show they don't have money in the bank, an extra car or stocks before collecting their benefit from the state. 

Starting this May, recipients will have to pass a new test before receiving their benefits.

It's called an asset test, and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare said it will stop people from taking advantage of the system.

People who work with the poor, however, said the test will hurt those in need.

"It's varying circumstances," said Jodi Readinger, Berks Community Action Program. "It's not all the people that are receiving public assistance who don't work and have 16 kids. It's a lot of families, hard working families, a lot more working people than it ever has before."

A family of four that makes $33,000 a year can qualify, said Readinger, who added that the state's new plan to implement an asset test for recipients will hurt those families that have already submitted income statements, proof of expenses and had an interview.

"You have to go through the process. You have to answer their questions," said Readinger. "They're not up at 6th and Cherry handing out money. You really have to work for your benefits."

Under the asset test, elderly or disabled households may not have an excess of $3,250 of countable resources.

Countable resources include:

·         Cash on hand, checking & savings accounts;

·         Lump sum payments;

·         Funds withdrawn from educational accounts when the funds are used for purposes other than educational expenses;

·         Readily available funds from trust accounts;

·         Stocks, bonds, saving certificates

·         Non-recurring payments from retirement plans when an individual chooses to liquidate the funds

·         Personal property, such as license and unlicensed vehicles, boats, aircraft, all-terrain vehicles

All other households cannot have more than $2,000 of countable resources.

"It is not a lot of money, but there are people who are in worse shape and that's what we're saying," said Anne Bale, Department of Public Welfare. "It's really those who are in dire straights are the ones we have to reserve this type of benefit for."

Bale said taxpayers are demanding more accountability from the system. 

Readinger said she's concerned the asset test sends an unintended message not to save.

"We shouldn't be forcing people to spend their money quickly so they can keep on getting the benefits that help them feed their family," said Readinger.

New food stamp clients can expect to give their asset information on or after May 1. Current recipients can expect their county assistance office to ask for it at their next client contact.

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