2013-10-31 / Local & State

Welfare Chief Rethinks Food-stamp Asset Test

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Pennsylvania’s top welfare official says she is rethinking the state’s widely criticized asset test for food-stamps, but it remained unclear Wednesday what that means for the 1.8 million people served by the program.

Beverly Mackereth, secretary of the Department of Public Welfare, made the comment in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board, the newspaper reported Wednesday.

Asked to elaborate Wednesday, a spokeswoman said Mackereth is “revisiting the program to see the outcomes” as part of an ongoing review of all programs administered by the huge department.

“We’re always looking at how we can make things better,” said the spokeswoman, Carey Miller.

The asset test, implemented under Mackereth’s predecessor, Gary Alexander, requires applicants to prove they don’t have significant personal assets before they can qualify for food stamps.

Households with people younger than 60 cannot have more than $5,500 in assets, while those with older or disabled people are allowed to have $9,000 in assets. Income restrictions also apply, allowing a family of four with an annual income of about $36,000 to qualify.

Critics say the application process is so complicated that many deserving people cannot get food stamps, which are now called SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

During the first year of the test, 4,000 households were turned down for having too many financial resources, while 111,000 were denied SNAP benefits because they failed to provide proper documentation, the Inquirer reported.

“The asset test adds unnecessary red tape,” said Julie Zaebst of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

The department has acknowledged that the incidence of foodstamp fraud is low in the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which finances the SNAP program, has lauded Pennsylvania’s program as wellrun.

In the interview, Mackereth sought to distance herself from Alexander, a Rhode Island resident who vowed to cut costs in the massive department by rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. Alexander resigned in February, and top lawmakers say he never delivered on the pledge to find substantial savings from waste, fraud and abuse.

“My focus is not waste, fraud and abuse,” said Mackereth, a former Republican state representative from York County. “My primary focus is getting services to people who are entitled to them.”

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