Leroy Fick won $2 million playing the Michigan lottery. He bought a new home and a costly car, all while collecting taxpayer-funded food stamps. Fick and stories like his spurred the Trump Administration’s new SNAP or Food Stamp rule to ensure food assistance is going to the truly needy.
In a nutshell, the rule ends a loophole that allows wealthy individuals with ample assets and no income (lottery winners, trust fund kids, and retired millionaires) to qualify for Food Stamps.
This is the second significant Food Stamp reform proposed by the Trump Administration. In December, administrators announced a new rule to reduce exemptions from work requirements. Both policy changes refocus food assistance on the neediest populations.
Assistance should always be targeted and designed to foster work and earned success.
The federal income limit for Food Stamps is 130% of the Federal Poverty Line. In addition, asset limits (which are mostly waived in Pa.) are designed to ensure benefits aren’t diverted from those who truly need assistance. However, states have flexibility when it comes to income limits and counting assets.
In Pennsylvania, families can make up to 160% of the Federal Poverty Line to qualify for food assistance with no verification of assets. If the household has a disabled or elderly member, that threshold increases to 200%.
This loophole is called Broad Based Categorical Eligibility and is linked to receiving a TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefit. TANF is a cash assistance program that helps the poorest families with basic needs while they go to school or work low-wage jobs. But there are other TANF-funded benefits you can receive; such as printed materials, childcare assistance, work subsidies and even referral to a phone number. Receiving any of these services means you can enroll in Food Stamps through Broad Based Categorical Eligibility without verifying your assets.
This loophole violates the spirit of rules intended to preserve Food Stamps for people who truly struggle to afford groceries.
Gov. Wolf noted 200,000 Pennsylvanians could be at risk of losing Food Stamps under the rule change. This begs the question: shouldn’t these individuals be able to apply directly for Food Stamps? If not, shouldn’t we be concerned that so many food stamp recipients are asset-wealthy, and are diverting funds from truly needy individuals?
The proposed rule would not eliminate automatic enrollment in Food Stamps for all TANF services. If an individual receives at least $50 in services for at least six months via work supports, wage subsidies, or child care subsidies, they can still automatically receive Food Stamps. That is, those striving to get and hold down a job retain automatic enrollment.
But Governor Wolf has falsely claimed the opposite:
This proposed change to SNAP benefits is punishment for working families across America. I oppose this ludicrous change that will hurt tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians, creating an undue burden and more food insecurity for families.
Simply applying for benefits is not an undue burden on families, especially with all the organizations whose sole goal is to connect qualified individuals with benefits. The application process simply weeds out those—like millionaire Leroy Fick—with the money to buy their own groceries.
The loudest group opposed to this commonsense reform is government officials whose jobs rely on maximizing the number of people in poverty. Perhaps that’s why Department of Human Services sectary Teresa Miller said in 2018, “We want everyone that can possibly be on SNAP to be on SNAP.”
More dependence is not the way to help Pennsylvanians prosper. Assistance should always be targeted and designed to foster work and earned success. In the booming 2019 economy, with a mass shortage of mid-skilled workers, there is ample opportunity for employment and training. Food Stamps should focus on helping families bridge that transition, not making it easier to game the system.