Michigan will begin enforcing stricter policies for food stamp assistance this month. While in previous years the assistance has been based solely on income, new factors such as savings and other assets will be taken into account when determining who will receive the aid from the state..
Those applying for aid will be asked for a list of assets while those who currently receive aid will need to provide a list when they are up for review - which is about once every six months.
Assets that would render individulas and families unqualified for food stamps include $5,000 or more in a savings or checking account or owning some kind of property. Vehicles cannot be valued at over $15,000. Primary residencies do not count as an asset.
Advocates for the policy, including Brian Rooney, a deputy director with the Michigan Department of Human Services, believe that it will weed out those individuals who are "playing" the system. They also believe that the college students cut from the program should not have been on it in the first place.
"We have to make sure that we're serving the correct population, those that are truly in need," said Rooney. "We believe that the asset test will still cover those that are truly in need."
Opponents of the new requirements believe this is a step backward for the state. For example, because car assets can not exceed $15,000, families may be forced to sell a second car in order to stay on the program. This in turn could affect chances for employment, as well as other responsibilities.
Many people are opposed to the cuts, including Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services, who said in a statement, "Deep cuts alone will threaten the recovery and make it harder for Michigan to advance. We know that rising poverty threatens our economic future."
Another opponent, Karen Holcomb-Merrill, the policy director for the Michigan League for Human Services, had this to say: "This is a hard time in Michigan for many families who are transitioning from middle-class jobs to lower-paid jobs and part-time work. We should be enacting policies that encourage savings. This may have the opposite effect."
Among other cuts, Michigan has also reduced the number of weeks an individual can qualify for unemployment benefits from 26 to 20, and has set a lifetime limit of four years for welfare benefits.
Ken Horn, the Republican representative behind the four-year cash assistance limit, said, ''In this state, we are losing hard-working families and taxpayers and gaining people who were moving here for our entitlement programs."
Governor Snyder, in a phone call to the Associated Press, had this to say regarding the new cuts, "These are difficult decisions ... (but) we're going to be well positioned for the long term."
Michigan is the first state to return to an asset-based system for food stamp aid.
Nationally, there have been cuts totaling more than $14 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as the food stamp program. The cuts are set to go in to effect in 2013-2014.
SNAP provides a monthly benefit amount to eligible low-income families that can be used to purchase nutritious food. Seventy-six percent of all households that benefit from the program have children, and one-third of the households include senior citizens or individuals with disabilities. One in eight Americans - 42.9 million people - received aid from SNAP in September 2010, according to the US Department of Agriculture's annual report about food security in the US.Sources: