March 26, 2017

A kick in the assets

There are a lot of bad bills making their way through the WV legislature, but one that particularly gets under my skin is aimed at making life harder for people who need to rely on SNAP (formerly food stamps) for food assistance.

Senate Bill 60, linked above, isn't as bad as it used to be, thanks to amendments by rational legislators. But it's still pretty bad.

Let's start with the math. At a committee meeting last week, it came out that the proposed legislation would cost around a million per year in state tax dollars to pay private corporations to profit at public expense in "verifying" eligibility for benefits--in order to remove $5 million in federal dollars from the WV economy. That's money spent at local stores and farmers markets supporting local jobs.

One more time: we'd be paying corporations to take away money from WV. Really.

In chess, this would be like sacrificing a rook to take a pawn.

Even worse is a mean spirited asset limit which would knock people off the rolls and make it harder for low income families to get back on their feet. Most states, 34 in all, including not just West Virginia but some of the most politically conservative southern states, have eliminated the asset limit because it's expensive to implement, useless and just plain mean.

As the folks at the WV Center on Budget and Policy note,
The reason most states have removed their asset test from SNAP is that they recognized that it was counter-productive and punishes families for saving money for emergencies or for their children’s future while they are temporarily enrolled in SNAP.  By removing the asset test or limit, it simplifies the application process, reduces errors associated with assets and vehicle information.
Asset limits would hit older adults particularly hard, potentially wiping out retirement savings. But it could also eat away family savings for emergency or for college that people could get the equivalent of $4 a day for food.

Like unemployment insurance, SNAP benefits are counter-cyclical, which means they kick in more when times are bad, helping to keep families and communities going. Most people receiving SNAP only do so for a limited time. Here's more from my policy wonk friends:
Because SNAP works as a temporary stopgap – with 58 percent of new receipts leaving the program within a year – it is vital for them to retain their savings as they get back on their feet. Studies have also shown that asset limits (and more stringent vehicles asset tests) have no impact on the length of stay in SNAP.
A study by the Urban Institute found that states with relaxed asset limits make it easier for low income people to bounce back and participate in the mainstream economy (such as having bank accounts):
Taken together, relaxed asset limits increase households’ financial security and stability by increasing savings and reducing benefit fluctuations, and they can decrease administrative program costs when fewer people cycle on and off the program. The findings suggest that states with SNAP asset limits can improve family financial well-being by relaxing them and that reinstating federal SNAP asset limits will harm family financial stability.
Finally, I hope that decision makers take a minute to check out this great letter to the editor in today's Gazette-Mail by the Rev. Kay Albright, outreach coordinator at Manna Meal, which serves two hot meals a day to anyone who shows up at St. John's Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Here are some of my favorite parts:
I have sat in committee meetings, met with various legislators, and called even more of them regarding SNAP benefits. I believe it is easy to sit in the capitol complex and make decisions about issues that do not affect you. Poverty is something our legislators may not have experienced.... 
Come and eat. Talk to those most affected by your decisions regarding SNAP before you make them. Come and see it is about food, a basic human need. We do not need to create more bureaucracy for those in West Virginia who are in the grip of poverty.
SB 60 is on second reading in the senate and is likely to be up for amendments tomorrow (Monday).

If you haven't already, please consider contacting your legislator. You can find out who and how here.


Antipode said...

I'm biased. But great post!

Unknown said...

Like sacrificing a rook to capture a pawn, exactly