If elected governor, Tom Wolf plans to end the asset test, a measure that ties federal food stamp benefits to people's bank accounts and car ownership.
The Democrat would also work to reestablish General Assistance (GA), which used to pay $205 a month to people who were both poor and disabled.
Both moves would reverse initiatives by Gov. Corbett, who saw the asset test as a way to cut down on fraud and waste, and GA as an unnecessary institution from the 1930s whose elimination has saved the state $150 million a year. The Republican governor added the asset test and discarded GA in 2012.
The two programs have figured prominently in the lives of poor people. But they traditionally do not figure prominently in gubernatorial campaigns.
While advocates for the poor applaud Wolf's intent, political experts say his views on asset tests and GA won't change voters' minds: Those who agree with Wolf's views on the programs are already in his corner.
Wolf has not said a great deal in public about the asset test. But in a July statement to ACT-UP Philadelphia, a nonpartisan group committed to ending AIDS, Wolf called the asset test "another example of how [Corbett] has embraced policies intended to hurt our most vulnerable residents."
In response, Billy Pitman, a spokesman for Corbett's campaign, said in an e-mail: "Gov. Corbett believes our limited public welfare dollars should be targeted at our most vulnerable."
Corbett, Pitman said, "has focused on eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse so that more resources are available for those truly in need." He said Corbett had improved programs to help Pennsylvanians with physical and intellectual disabilities.
The announcement by the Wolf team was met with surprised elation by antihunger advocates.
"Ending the asset test is fantastic news for all Pennsylvanians," said Kathy Fisher, policy manager for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. "It [is] a barrier for those struggling with hard times."
In a one-word assessment, Caryn Long, executive director of the nonprofit Feeding Pennsylvania, described her reaction to Wolf's desire to end the asset test as "thrilled."
Jonathan Stein, senior attorney at Community Legal Services, called Wolf's plan to reestablish GA "an extraordinarily positive statement."
GA, provided to single, unemployable adults with serious mental or physical disabilities, "will enhance income security, reduce homelessness, and allow people to be able to resume independent, healthy lives," Stein said.
Denigrating Wolf's stance on the asset test, Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, said the test had weeded out at least 39 individuals applying for food stamps with too much money in the bank.
She added that the foundation, a nonprofit based in Harrisburg, believes the Medicaid program "adequately meets the needs" of those who would receive GA under Wolf.
Reinstating GA would not be easy, since it would also require the legislature's assent, said Stein's colleague at CLS, lawyer Richard Weishaupt.
Stopping the asset test would be much simpler, Weishaupt added, since that would require only a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, as the food stamp program is known.
Wolf's proposed changes "are minor points at this state of the game," said Robin Kolodny, a political scientist at Temple University. By now, 98 percent of people who are going to vote have made up their minds, she said. And ending asset tests is something most people who would vote for Wolf would have supported anyway, she said.
Then Kolodny added a truism of elections practically anywhere in the United States: "Poverty amelioration is not a big issue on the top of voters' minds."
Doing away with the asset test would have far greater impact than a reinstatement of GA, experts said. That's because while 68,000 Pennsylvanians were on GA before it was ended, some 1.8 million people in the state currently receive SNAP benefits, Coalition Against Hunger figures show.
Pennsylvania is one of just 12 states to institute an asset test, seen by advocates and academics as unnecessary red tape that stymies deserving people in accessing benefits. Few people who apply for food stamps appear to have excess assets, figures show.
Of the nearly 900,000 households in the state receiving SNAP benefits in January 2013, only 203 - 0.02 percent - were found to be ineligible because they had too many assets, according to the latest calculations by the Coalition Against Hunger.
Advocates say such small numbers are not worth the time of Department of Public Welfare caseworkers.
For its part, the Corbett administration said the test was used to stop waste, fraud, and abuse.
Under the test, households with people under age 60 are limited to $5,500 in assets to qualify for SNAP benefits. For households with older residents, or those with people with disabilities, the figure is $9,000.
Houses, retirement benefits, and one car are not counted as assets. Additional vehicles worth more than $4,650 are counted.
Corbett surprised many people earlier this year when he forestalled an estimated $3 billion in cuts to food stamps in the state over the next 10 years.
In so doing, Corbett became the first Republican governor in the country to prevent the cuts ordered by Congress, which is looking to slash $8.6 billion over the next decade from the food-stamp program.