Earlier this week, IdahoReporter.com found that a test that decides who can and cannot receive federal food stamps hasn't been altered or adjusted for inflation in more than 24 years. Several Republican lawmakers who sit on the House Health and Welfare Committee said that they would be willing to look at an adjustment for the test.
Tom Shanahan, spokesman for the department, upon the request of IdahoReporter.com, checked with several employees within his agency on the history of the $2,000 limit, known as the asset test. The test put a cap on how many hard assets - travel trailers or ATVs, for examples, - a family could own before being deemed ineligible for federal food aid. Shanahan said that Food Stamp Act of 1964, which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “authorized a food stamp program to permit low income households to receive ‘a greater share of the Nation’s food abundance,’” gave states tasked with regulating food stamps the ability to apply income level tests on those who apply for public assistance. Shanahan remains unsure exactly when Idaho implemented its asset test, but did confirm with federal officials that the test has been in place since at least 1986 at the same $2,000 level.
Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, who sits on the committee and was one of the most outspoken opponents of the initial suspension, said that he would be willing to adjust the test for inflation. If the department decided to adjust the test for inflation based on the year 1986, the cap for families applying for food stamps would jump to around $3,800. That number excludes one car per family.
It seems that several legislators on the committee would be amenable to adjusting the test. Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, told IdahoReporter.com that he would like lawmakers to examine the issue and make tweaks where needed. "I'm not sure where it should be, but something needs to be done with it," Loertscher said. Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who serves as the vice chairman for the committee, agreed with the echoed Loerstcher. "I would be willing to look at it," said Nielsen. "But I'm one who wants people to depend on themselves and not the government." Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said the asset test deserves another look and that she would rather adjust it for inflation than do away with it altogether, as the Idaho Community Action Network is calling for.
One lawmaker on the committee, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, took a tougher stance than some of her colleagues. "You know, I've had points in my lifetime when I had to sell my assets to help feed my family," said Boyle. "If you have assets, why should you want your neighbor, the taxpayer, to pay for you to keep your toys? That's what it's all about for me, no matter what level the cap is at." Boyle said that if she has to choose, she would rather adjust the cap for inflation than see it removed indefinitely.
The test was suspended by Gov. Butch Otter mid-year 2009 because he believed the poor economy made it difficult for families to liquidate hard assets into money to pay for food. Legislators reluctantly approved the change, though several supported the suspension only because if they killed the measure, it would have shortened the suspension by about two months. At the end of Otter's suspension, DHW officials decided to suspend the test for an additional year, which drew the ire of some lawmakers. "The reason I believe DHW employees don’t want to deal with the asset test because it means they would have to work,” said Thayn. "The whole philosophy behind federal food aid is wrong because we are missing a good opportunity to teach people how to stretch their food dollars. We are instead teaching people to become reliant on the government for sustenance.”