A Senate panel voted to extend a temporary waiver on the asset test for people seeking food stamps. The rule still must be approved by a House committee.
Removing the asset test helps those hurt by the recession, says Rosie Andueza, who manages the food stamp program for the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW). “As unemployment rates rise, more and more families do not have cash flowing into the household,” Andueza said. The asset test, which was suspended by Gov. Butch Otter last year, prevented those with assets of more than $2,000 from getting food stamps. That meant people had to sell houses and vehicles and empty savings or retirement accounts before they could be accepted. “Many were forced to make decisions about which was more important: a roof over their head or food on the table,” Andueza said.
The state’s food stamp program still has an income test, which is 130 percent of the federal poverty level. The limit for a family of four is $2,349 a month; for an individual, it’s $1,174. Because people applying for food stamps aren’t asked about their assets, Andueza can’t say how many additional people are receiving food stamps. She said DHW anticipated a 5 percent growth, based on the number of applications rejected due to the asset test when it was in place. Food stamp use has been rising in Idaho during the past two years.
“Raising the asset test was a good idea and none of us oppose it,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, a member of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which approved the plan. She said difficult times are leading more people to depend on food stamps. “Idahoans are very independent people and it takes a lot for us to ask for help.”
When the asset test removal expires at the end of May, hunger advocacy groups including the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger could ask Otter to extend the policy for another year, according to Will Rainford with the Catholic Charities of Idaho.