By Jeanie Donovan
When a Texas family is struggling to make ends meet or having trouble keeping food on the table, they may turn to SNAP (formerly food stamps) to help them through that difficult economic time. Like most safety net programs, SNAP is “means-tested” to ensure that only applicants with limited resources receive assistance. For SNAP, means-testing includes a measurement of the amount of income and other assets a household has when determining eligibility for the program.
The income and resource policies vary for each safety net program available in Texas, creating a complicated system for applicants to understand and for state workers to administer. The complex policies also discourage applicants from applying for and receiving the help that they need. Additionally, some of the resource limits can have unintended effects on a household’s financial standing. Specifically, they can incentivize families to “spend down” savings and other resources – harming their ability to regain self-sufficiency.
The income and resource criteria for SNAP are particularly complex and restrictive in our state. For example, if a household has a modest amount of savings or two reliable vehicles, they are ineligible to receive SNAP, regardless of how low their income is. Therefore, if a family suddenly loses a job or their income is unexpectedly reduced, they cannot receive food assistance. As a result, they may be forced to spend their savings or sell their vehicle in order to provide food for their family.
HB 3845 Would Eliminate Asset Test
USDA gives states the option of eliminating the asset limit for SNAP eligibility determinations. Currently, 36 states do not take a household’s liquid assets into account when determining eligibility. Thirty-seven states exclude the value of all vehicles a household owns. Twelve other states exclude the entire value of at least one vehicle.
Eliminating or raising the asset limits for SNAP is beneficial for a variety of reasons:
- Makes the enrollment and eligibility process easier for potential applicants to understand.
- Encourages, rather than discourages, savings and asset building among low-income families.
- Reduces administrative workload for enrollment staff at HHSC.
Texas should eliminate resource testing in SNAP to encourage upward mobility and increase the administrative efficiency of the application process.