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In an effort to reduce fraud, Pennsylvania may soon impose a controversial asset test to determine eligibility for food stamps.

With the new test, people under the age of 60 who own more than $2,000 in certain kinds of assets and people over 60 who own more than $3,250 will no longer be eligible to receive food stamps.

The state plans to implement this test on May 1, according to a letter obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer from Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The move has earned many detractors, who claim that such a test discourages saving among low-income families.

“The idea that you have to be destitute to receive benefits is ridiculous,” said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. “It punishes people for saving, which is opposite of the idea the administration seems to be touting.”

Both sides of the debate are using economic rationales to support their arguments.

The state claims that the asset test will weed out abuse in the program by denying benefits to people who don’t need them.

It wants to make sure that “people with resources are not taking advantage of the food-stamp program,” DPW spokesperson Anne Bale told the Inquirer.

“The demand for nutrition assistance (food stamps) is at an all-time high in Pennsylvania and across the nation,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett wrote in his proposed state budget in March. “As with many other areas of public assistance, this level of dependence is unsustainable over the long term.”

But opponents say the test will do more financial harm than good.

Food stamps help to generate economic activity, said Political Science lecturer Mary Summers, whose research interests include the politics of food.

“When you put that money in the hands of low-income people, they buy food,” she said. The money “goes right into the system.”

Some people are already not receiving their benefits on time, Morgan said. The test will be an additional administrative measure that would “create an even larger clog in the system.”

Engineering senior Justin Broglie — who took the Greater Philadelphia Coalition’s Food Stamp Challenge in November, living on $4 of food per day — said the experience made him “much more compassionate for people who are on food stamps.”

He said in lieu of debating over an asset test, “the ultimate solution is … trying to implement more of a living-wage right for people.”

“I learned that it’s very hard if you’re a low-income person,” he added. The challenge “conjured up definite feelings of fear: ‘Am I going to have enough food to eat?’”

The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is administered by the USDA, with benefits distributed by states themselves.

The federal government has an asset limit of $2,000, but states are allowed to change or eliminate this limit entirely.

Pennsylvania eliminated its asset limit in 2008, under the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell.

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