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

By Pam Cunningham, Reporter
Published On: Jan 09 2012 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 11 2012 06:12:18 AM CST

Pennsylvania is changing the way it gives out food stamps.

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. But people who work with the poor said the test will hurt people in need.

 At the supermarket people can use their food stamps to feed their families. Jodi Readinger at Berks Community Action program helps people apply for that benefit.

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

She said a family of four that makes $33,000 a year can qualify. Pennsylvania's new plan to implement an asset test for recipients will hurt those families who 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. They're not up at 6th and Cherry handing out money. You really have to work for your benefits," said Readinger.

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

 Countable resources include:

·         Cash on hand, checking and 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·         Funds withdrawn from educational accounts when the funds are used for        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 of the 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 about the unintended message the asset test sends--don't 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 1st. Current recipients can expect their county assistance office to ask for it at their next client contact.