The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

The Lottery Effect: Basing Policy on Outliers Is a Bad Idea

Published:  December 10, 2012

Here at the Asset Building Program we write regularly about the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of asset limits in public benefits programs. Recent research conducted by our own Aleta Sprague and Rachel Black documents the substantial burden asset limits place on benefits administrators and participants alike, examines trends with asset limit policies at the state level, and identifies ways to reform these policies to better promote long-term financial stability.

In particular, Sprague and Black found that asset limits for benefits like SNAP (food stamps) and TANF (cash welfare) run counter to purported program goals of efficiency and financial independence. As guest blogger Jessica Bartholow recently put it: "remember what more than a decade of research on asset poverty and economic security for low-income households has taught us: that families are less likely to find their way back to financial solvency when they’ve lost everything they have." Forcing families to spend down any small savings they have before they qualify for benefits thwarts their efforts to get back on their feet.  

Sprague and Black have a new piece of commentary up on the Spotlight on Poverty site that delves into some of the recent policy conversations states are having about asset limits. In particular, they make the case that allowing asset limits to be dictated by sensational and high-profile but extremely rare outlier events (such as two Michigan lottery winners continuing to receive their SNAP benefits) makes for bad public policy. The piece is an important read, so check out the whole thing here.

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