Imagine if you suddenly found yourself unemployed, had a family to feed, had not earned enough to qualify for Michigan’s stringent eligibility rules regarding Unemployment Insurance, and applied for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help you feed your family as you look for work.
Then imagine being told that the balance in your savings account of $7,218.31, which you had built up over the years for your children and in preparation for emergencies (such as needing to replace your roof or your car) was too high, and that you could only receive food assistance if you spend down your savings to $5,000 or less.
Thankfully, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced yesterday that effective November 1, the asset limit for food assistance (currently $5,000), cash assistance (currently $3,000) and heating assistance (currently $500) will be raised to $15,000. The vehicle asset limit for SNAP, which does not take into consideration one vehicle but limits the value of a household’s second vehicle to $15,000, will also be lifted. Applicants and recipients will also now be able to self-declare their assets with further documentation required if requested by the department, which will cut down on burdensome paperwork for both applicant and caseworker.
A household asset limit of $2,250 for federal food assistance eligibility was first implemented by the federal law that created TANF in 1996, but states could request waivers from that rule and either raise their asset limit higher than the federal level or eliminate it completely. Michigan, to its credit, was one of the first to eliminate the asset test for food assistance. However, the Department of Human Services reinstated it in its departmental policy at a level of $5,000 after then-director Maura Corrigan, reportedly saw a public assistance recipient emerge from a Hummer in the agency parking lot.
At the time the departmental policy was changed, the Legislature passed a law, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, that simply says, “for the purposes of determining financial eligibility for the family independence program or the food assistance program administered under this act, the department shall apply an asset test.” Because this law remains in place, Gov. Whitmer could not eliminate the asset limit entirely, as 35 other states have done for SNAP food assistance. We urge the Michigan Legislature to remove this language from statute in order to give the governor further flexibility to eliminate the asset test completely and reduce paperwork and burden for public assistance caseworkers, applicants and recipients.
We commend the governor and the Department of Health and Human Services for making this common-sense change that will help working families.