Food stamps now asset-tested in Pa.
State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown is hungry to get back to work – literally.
Brown was one of a handful of state and federal legislators from the city who took part in the Food Stamp Challenge, agreeing to subsist on whatever she could buy for just $35 a week to protest state asset testing for people receiving food stamps.
So, for the last week, she’s been getting by on cereal, cold cuts and Oodles of Noodles.
“I can’t take this anymore,” she joked, noting that the issue behind her actions was anything but funny. “It makes us fight even harder for that part of our population. Once you’ve walked in their shoes and you feel their pain, it makes you a better advocate for them,”
At this point, the protest, which also included state Sen. Vincent Hughes, State Rep. Tony Payton, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and Mayor Michael Nutter, is symbolic. Asset testing is the administration’s official policy as of today.
From now on, anyone with assets valued greater than $2,500 will be ineligible to receive food stamps. Nevertheless, Brown along with several others, including Brady, has decided to continue for a month.
The battle over the asset tests has come to symbolize the ideological tug of war in Harrisburg, which, as state lawmakers returned to work Monday after three weeks away for the primary are expected to resume as they examine the impact of Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed spending cuts.
Critics say those cuts would have a devastating effect on the state’s poor.
For instance, advocates for the poor are protesting cuts that the state expects to save about $320 million by eliminating about $200 a month for temporarily unemployed and disabled adults and by requiring them to work 100 hours a month to maintain a state-paid medical benefit.
Michael Froelich, a staff lawyer for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, said eliminating the temporary cash assistance will ensure more people end up in homeless shelters, which are also slated to take a big cut in state aid. He said it makes little sense to require these same disabled people to work 100 hours a month to maintain their medical benefit.
“Hopefully, we can educate legislators about this so they can see you can’t just overnight eliminate (the only source of income for) somebody who is unable to work ... and expect that you won’t see them turning to more expensive social services,” Froelich said.
Schools, social services and nursing homes are also in line for cuts under Corbett’s proposed budget.
Counties, which administer a wide range of social services from care for the mentally ill to the homeless to neglected and abused children, would have to do so with 20 percent, or $168 million, less.
Public schools would lose a $100 million grant program, while Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Pennsylvania’s 14 State System of Higher Education universities would lose 25 percent, or $230 million.
Nursing homes that treat the poor are fighting a cut of 4 percent, or $46 million, which actually could reach $102 million when the loss of federal Medicaid matching funds is included, an industry lobbying association said.
Brown expected the partisan atmosphere in Harrisburg to remain even as she recognized that many of her colleagues across the aisle are not always whole-heartedly behind Corbett’s proposals.
“Not all of them agree,” she said. “But, they’re all voting with the governor, who has a targeted national agenda. They’re not voting for Pennsylvania. They’re voting for a political agenda to unseat President Barack Obama and make the poor pay for everything.”
In February, Corbett proposed a hold-the-line budget of $27.1 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that also dealt with a newly projected $719 million shortfall expected in the current fiscal year.
While the governor had expected tax collections to increase in 2012-13 by more than $1 billion, much of it will be consumed by fixed increases in pension, health care and debt costs. In addition, his budget proposes drawing several hundred millions dollars from outside funds to prop up the state’s main bank account.
Corbett, who pledged in his campaign not to increase taxes, is not seeking any major tax increase, and his proposed budget would cut $275 million in taxes paid by businesses.
On Tuesday, the Legislature’s newly created Independent Fiscal Office was scheduled to release its estimates of revenue collections for the next 14 months.