It is time to revisit the methods for which our states qualify our neediest residents for aid. For many, receiving aid means liquidating virtually all of ones assets in order to qualify. When you eliminate your only means left of financial stability, what's left for you to move on with your life?
As the Great Recession ensnares more middle-class families, how far does a family need to fall before the public safety net kicks in?
Many government programs have requirements for families to spend down much of their savings before they can qualify for temporary assistance. Advocates say these tests undermine a family's ability to bounce back from financial setbacks in the future.
Minnesota's food support program -- better known as food stamps -- is a case in point. To qualify for the assistance, Minnesotans need to have assets below $7,000 -- which amounts to a few months of mortgage payments for many.
"These are really troubled times and people maybe just need help for just a short period," said Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota. "We don't want to throw people into abject poverty forever."
A draft study on hunger from Second Harvest Heartland found that if the food stamp test was eliminated, between 75,000 and 87,000 low-income Minnesotans would qualify for the public assistance. That would bring an estimated $154 million in economic activity into the state, as families buy more food and stores hire more workers. The federal government pays for the food stamp program, though states set their own rules and administer it.
If anything, asset requirements create residents who depend on assistance longer, as they are left with nothing to move on. We need to rethink what qualifications should exist for our aid programs and consider making changes.
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