Senate budget calls for “asset tests” for poor Ohioans seeking food stamps

By: - June 14, 2021 1:00 am

The All People’s Fresh Market in Columbus, Ohio on July 28, 2020. (Brooke LaValley/ Ohio Capital Journal)

The Ohio Senate added to its budget proposal a provision requiring the state to cut off food stamp assistance for poor Ohioans if their households save up $2,250 or more.

It also imposes a requirement known as “change reporting.” This forces Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program clients to report every fluctuation in income — things like extra shifts at work or picking up odd jobs — worth $500 or more within 30 days.

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services would be required to conduct an asset test for every SNAP recipient, according to analysis from the Legislative Budget Office. This entails probing bank accounts and cross-checks against various property databases.

Senate Republicans said they added the provisions to ensure the food aid only goes to the truly needy.

Advocates warned that asset-testing poor people disincentivizes savings and will only knock hungry people off program rolls. They also criticized bundling the policy idea into the state budget and unveiling the change on the tail end of the budget process.

The SNAP changes, some of which appeared in Senate legislation earlier this year, arrived on page 2,019 of a 3,300-page budget bill.

Currently, SNAP eligibility in Ohio is determined by income — those who earn below 130% of the federal poverty line can receive benefits (about  $214 per month on average). The Senate’s proposal would require ODJFS to analyze the assets of current beneficiaries and new applicants. Federal law essentially defines “assets,” as people’s net worth minus their home, retirement accounts, burial plots for household members, and any value of their car beyond $4,650.

The net worth includes all savings accounts, “regardless of whether there is a penalty for early withdrawal.”

The federal government funds all SNAP benefits, and the state and federal government split the administrative costs.

Anti-hunger advocates blasted the proposal. In a press event Friday, Kelsey Bergfeld and others with Advocates for Ohio’s Future said asset tests can be counterproductive.

For one, they said asset tests warp financial incentives — why save up if you could be financially penalized for it? Secondly, they steer poor people toward purchasing beaten down or used cars to stay below the asset test ceiling but are poor long run investments when accounting for maintenance needed on tired vehicles.

Jami Turley, a SNAP recipient from a rural pocket of Wayne County, appeared with AOF. She said she and her adult son are unemployed and looking for work. This necessarily requires a car in Sterling, Ohio, an unincorporated town with an unofficial population around 400 (it doesn’t have its own U.S. Census page online). Her husband died of diabetes at 43.

If she were subject to an asset test, she said the value of her Jeep would put her about $300 over the line, cutting off her food assistance.

“They have to make it easier for people who really do want to work and are trying real hard to get out of their situation,” she said. “You can’t make it harder for us to get harder for the situation.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Senate President Steve Huffman, R-Lima, said the goal of the policy is to get people who “take advantage” of the social safety net out of the system.

“There are a lot of folks who can afford to pay for a variety of things who are still receiving these benefits,” he said. “What we want to do is make sure the money that’s in the system is there to provide the infrastructure to make sure the system runs and you get the benefits to the people who need them, and make sure there’s enough benefits to the people who do.”

Both the House and Senate have passed dueling budget proposals. They must agree on a final version to send to Gov. Mike DeWine to sign by month’s end.

Correction: Jami Turley’s son was 13 when his father died. He did not die at the age of 13. 

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.

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