Asset Tests, Food Stamps, and Something to Think About

A few pages into my copy of today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune I found a short news story about states setting limits on the amount of assets citizens can own before qualifying for food stamp assistance.  This news should set off alarms and it if it doesn’t, let me share what I think are reasons to be concerned.

The article points out that some states are attempting “to redefine who’s truly needy” because state budgets are low.  A solution that forces families with essentially no savings and income below the poverty level to strip down what assets they do own in order to qualify for assistance.  In the example given in the story, a family in this situation did not qualify because they own a 2010 Buick Enclave with 300,000 miles on it.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder — a Republican, of course — explains that his state has “to work through tough things.”  Of course that is true.  So why not ask the neediest to give a disproportionate share of those tough things?

These are states refusing to address the real fiscal issue — an underfunded government — by rejecting any idea of appropriate tax policy or tax parity.  These are also states that offer tax incentives and subsidies to profitable businesses and investors under the failed promise that it will benefit the poor doing so.  (Trickle-down, supply side economic policy has left us broke and divided.)  Largely directed by misguided conservative myths of economic opportunity and independence, states favor the advantages of wealth at the expense of added burden placed upon the poor.

Giving business a subsidy or tax breaks to individual “investors” is no less a financial burden on the state than giving the poorest support for food, shelter, and well-being.  In fact if the poorest are left to suffer, the costs to society will be much greater than if the wealthiest are denied a small fraction of their good fortune.

But put economic good sense aside for a moment.  Who is so damn petty that they think forcing a family to give up basic assets like a car before qualifying for food assistance is ethical public policy?  We’ll gladly help build a factory, provide low interest loans, or — in my state — subsidize a billion dollar sports stadium for billionaires, but we will force a family do divest in basic assets to qualify for assistance with basic needs?   Does that make sense?

And people wonder why this country is such a mess…

I am so mad I could spit.

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