States' efforts to increase food stamp benefits

June 18, 2012 - 3:36 PM

States seeking a larger share of the nearly $80 billion a year the federal government hands out for food stamps have resorted to several practices that some lawmakers say are abuses of the system:

—Fourteen states and the District of Columbia make use of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Paying people as little as $1 a year for heating assistance, even if they don't have a heating bill, automatically qualifies them for greater food stamp benefits. Critics say that can result in households getting up to $100 extra a month in food stamps.

Those 14 states are California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

—The Congressional Research Service says 43 jurisdictions — 40 states plus D.C., Guam and The Virgin Islands — employ what is called "broad-based categorical eligibility" that allows individuals with assets greater than the food stamp limit to receive benefits as long as they receive some other federal benefit such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Thirty-nine of those jurisdictions have waived the statutory asset test for food stamps. Some states make all households with incomes below a state-determined threshold eligible for food stamps simply by sending households a TANF brochure or referral to a telephone hotline.

This year, households with liquid assets above $2,000 could not qualify for food stamps. The limit is $3,250 if the household includes an elderly or disabled person. The value of a home, retirement and education savings and up to $4,650 of the fair market value of a household's motor vehicles are excluded from the assets test.