THE Daily News' Jan. 12 editorial was spot-on in exposing the fact that Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to reinstitute food-stamp asset tests will not only hurt thousands who are struggling to put food on the table, but the rest of the commonwealth as well.
According to a recent census report, one out of two Americans is at the near-poverty level. This initiative is not only mean-spirited but also counterproductive in helping those on the lower economic rungs gain eventual long-term financial self-sufficiency. This comes at a time when many are struggling to recover from the near-collapse of our economy.
Seniors and unemployed families are especially vulnerable and need financial help to feed their families while trying to secure their future financial survival. This initiative will cause immediate and permanent harm, slamming the door shut on any chance for economic advancement and a way out of poverty.
Moving quickly to have Corbett rescind this decision, I sent a letter to Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander strongly urging him to end this reckless initiative, which will eliminate food stamps for individuals and families with more than $2,000 in savings and other assets, as well as for seniors with more than $3,250 in assets.
Almost 30 percent of Philadelphia's population, some 464,000 people, are eligible for food stamps and must rely on this vitally important source of food aid to feed their families - while trying to maintain or establish financial stability for themselves and their families.
Eliminating food stamps to these vulnerable families can cause immediate and permanent harm. This initiative can result in lifelong impoverishment for many of these individuals, further adding to, if not expanding, a permanent poverty class, and resulting in a long-term financial commitment from the commonwealth on a number of social-service fronts.
Over the last three years through my office's Bank on Philadelphia program, we have worked with numerous local community and financial partners to help unbanked Philadelphians realize the benefits of opening a checking account and, more importantly, a savings account.
Our aim is to have these individuals financially positioned one day to purchase a car, own a home and even send their children to college - in essence, to become active participants in the American dream. The governor's food-stamp-elimination initiative will negatively affect many of these individuals and reverse the progress we have been working so hard to achieve here in Philadelphia.
The stated motivation to "reduce waste, fraud and abuse across all department programs" appears to be a red herring when federal statistics show that Pennsylvania has one of the lowest food-stamp-fraud rates in the nation: one-tenth of 1 percent. In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that "Pennsylvania recently won a federal award for running its program efficiently."
As the controller for the city of Philadelphia, I am the chief financial watchdog and auditor for both the city and the School District of Philadelphia. When making audit decisions based on the best use of our staff and overall resource allocations, we would not focus on a department that has won recognition for having one of the "lowest" fraud rates in the nation.
As the Daily News stated, "There's no hard data to back up the notion that people are getting rich off what we now call the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - a/k/a food stamps)." Today's dire economy, coupled with the misery and hardship that resulted from the current recession, is not the time to engage in ideological experiments.
The middle class is already shrinking, while the number of working poor increases. This is not the time to push more people and families further into poverty.
Again, I call on the governor to terminate this reckless and mean-spirited initiative, which will harm thousands who are already struggling to survive during one of the worst economic recessions in our nation's history.