Washington, DC — Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to debate farm bill legislation that would force $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), accomplished in part by requiring states to enforce arbitrary “asset tests.” Under the proposal, low-income families would be ineligible for SNAP if they have any more than $2,000 in savings.
The New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program, a leading voice on policies to enable low- and middle-income Americans access savings opportunities, urges the House to reject this proposal, which would force families living on the brink of financial disaster to choose between saving money for the future and getting immediate help. New America’s experts are available to speak with journalists on this subject.
“Strict asset limits tell families: ‘Don’t you dare save or make responsible financial decisions.’ We need policies that reward responsible financial behavior and provide a ladder to financial independence,” said Reid Cramer, director of the Asset Building Program. “Forcing families to choose between a small emergency cushion and putting food on the table is beyond counter-productive. We’re forcing them to accept long-term poverty in exchange for short-term assistance.”
So far, 36 states have chosen to eliminate asset tests while five others have raised the asset limit. In an op-ed in Roll Call today, New America Policy Analyst Aleta Sprague writes that forcing states to reinstate asset tests would have dramatic and harmful effects on American families trying to save for the future.
“The poverty trap doesn’t come from the existence of programs but from forcing families to live at the margins,” Sprague writes. "Eliminating asset tests enhances a family’s ability to move to financial security and off SNAP. Strict asset limits prevent families from taking the necessary steps to escape poverty and create a needless burden for already strained state agencies. Allowing and encouraging savings should be an essential part of helping families get back on their feet."
Under the House bill, in addition to the $2,000 in savings rule, low-income families could also fail the asset test and be denied help if they own a vehicle worth more than about $5,000.
In May, the Senate rejected an amendment to reinstate the asset test in its version of the Farm Bill, which passed the Senate last week. The House is expected to vote on final passage of the Farm Bill on Friday.
To interview one of New America's experts, please contact Clara Hogan.