LANSING (WWJ/AP) – Gov. Rick Snyder said Tuesday the state is reassessing a decision to consider vehicles as assets under the food stamp program after some applicants complained they were denied assistance merely because of cars they use to get to school or job interviews.
The state Department of Human Services last month began telling applicants with assets of more than $5,000 in bank accounts, or who owned vehicles with market values of more than $15,000, that they’d no longer be eligible for assistance.
The Michigan League for Human Services said the federal government doesn’t require asset tests. It said 29 other states have no asset test, and 48 states and the District of Columbia exempt at least one vehicle from asset tests.
“We’re really glad that the administration is rethinking this punitive policy,” league President and CEO Gilda Jacobs told The Associated Press. “At a time when we’re concerned about having people build their assets, that policy does just the opposite.”
Snyder told reporters that criticism of the vehicle limit is a “valid issue” and that DHS officials are reviewing the policy.
“They’re looking hard at that issue because it has been surfaced as something that we should look at,” he said, adding he hasn’t yet received a recommendation on whether the vehicle limit should be dropped or changed.
More than 1.9 million Michigan residents – nearly 20 percent of the state’s population – receive help through the food assistance program, including about 800,000 children. The number of recipients has increased by more than 40 percent since late 2008 as the state has struggled to deal with the recession and to restore jobs after a decade of slow economic growth. Michigan currently has the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate at 11.1 percent.
Food assistance recipients generally have to be working or participating in employment or training activities to receive assistance for more than three months.
The Snyder administration has moved to place a four-year lifetime limit on cash welfare benefits since taking over state government agencies in January – a move that effects 41,000 people, 30,000 of which are children.
The state removed about 30,000 college students from its food assistance program earlier this year when it began enforcing federal guidelines. The asset test is expected to remove around 15,000 more recipients from the rolls, according to a DHS spokeswoman.
Food assistance benefits came under scrutiny earlier this year when it was revealed a Michigan man had continued to get food aid from the state despite winning a $2 million lottery jackpot.
Some assets, such as primary residences and 401(k) accounts, aren’t considered in determining food assistance eligibility. But second homes may count, depending on how much is owed on the properties. Many people are finding it hard to sell their second homes in the depressed real estate market.
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