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The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

Guest Post: House Vote Could Increase Asset Poverty Among Out-of-Work Americans

Published:  November 28, 2012

Editor's note: This post was authored by Jessica Bartholow. She has a Masters in Political Science and is a Legislative Advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty

With the year end approaching, it is still uncertain whether the U.S. House of Representatives will call for a floor vote on the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) of 2012 (H.R. 6083) which makes $16.5 billion in cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), despite statements by leadership earlier in the month that a vote would be called.

According to the Obama Administration, as many as three million of the record 43 million Americans receiving SNAP have benefited from the removal of the asset test. For these families, it means that they have not had to spend down their assets in order to become eligible for food help, making them more likely to quickly rebound from the economic downturn. This policy has proved critical during a period of high unemployment and underemployment.   

Take, for example, Jennifer and her husband Erik from Los Angeles, California, who were able to keep their small savings intact when they both lost their jobs at the beginning of the economic recession and turned to SNAP to help keep food on the table for themselves and their small child. After their hopes for a quickly rebounding economy and steady employment faded, Jennifer used the savings to begin a small home business so they could begin to slowly build themselves back to solvency. 

Or consider Linda and her husband Kyle, living in rural Pennsylvania, who applied for SNAP for the first time after his employer laid off the bulk of its construction workers and she was unable to find employment that would have paid more than the cost of gas to get there. At 42, Linda knows her meager retirement savings of $4,500 won’t go far, but she is proud to have saved it on the salary she earned working for eight years at the same fast-food restaurant for just over minimum wage and she hopes her savings will help her keep some independence when she grows old.       

During this past year, SNAP has become the subject of raging national debate. But missing the headlines too often are stories from families like Jennifer’s and Linda’s. Simply put, SNAP participation has been at record highs because poverty and joblessness have been at record highs. If states had been required to institute a strict asset test in SNAP, far more Americans would have gone hungry or lost all they had to keep themselves or their kids from going hungry.

Even if Congress doesn’t pass a Farm Bill this year, these SNAP cuts may very well be on the table during the “fiscal cliff” debate. If they are, we at the Western Center on Law and Poverty and other advocacy organizations hope our national leaders 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. If Congressional leaders are not persuaded to cast their vote based on the need to protect the economic or physical wellbeing of SNAP recipients, or the increasing inequality throughout the nation, maybe they will consider that, without the ability of these families to contribute economically or remain self-sufficient as they grey, our nation’s climb out of recession will be much slower.

For more information about the House Committee on Agriculture’s proposed cuts on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, see: 

Center on Budget & Policy Priorities' Summary Of Lucas-Peterson Proposals 

Food Research & Action Center's Farm Bill Action Page

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