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Michigan eliminates "asset test" for food assistance

Governor Whitmer signed a bill repealing the asset requirement for food benefits.
Governor Whitmer signed a bill repealing the asset requirement for food benefits.

Michiganders will no longer need to attest they have less than $15,000 in assets like cash, checking and savings accounts in order to qualify for food assistance benefits - although income and expenses will still be used to determine eligibility.

That’s after Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill this week removing the “asset test” for federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, adding Michigan to the list of more than 30 states that have removed the asset eligibility requirements.

“No one should be forced to sell their car or empty their savings account to feed themselves and their children,” Governor Whitmer said in a statement. “Improving access to food assistance is a common sense step already taken by 36 other states to lower costs for families and ensure they can get the benefits they need. Before this bill, Michiganders with more than $15,000 in assets—including the value of their vehicle and savings—would not qualify for food assistance. This forced people who might have been laid off or just need a little breathing room to make impossible choices” to qualify for SNAP.

Former Governor Rick Snyder reinstated the asset test in 2011, setting a $5,000 asset limit even as other states were doing away with the requirement. Snyder also signed bills requiring lottery winnings to be counted as either assets or unearned income, after a Michigan woman was found to be receiving food stamps despite winning $1 million (she was later taken off food assistance by the state.)

Whitmer initially raised the asset test limit to $15,000, including cash on hand, checking and savings accounts, and some investments - but removed vehicles from the asset check. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also began accepting “a client statement of assets rather than requiring a verification checklist be completed,” according to the state.

But Republican House Leader Matt Hall released a statement criticizing the asset test repeal.

“Michiganders are always ready to support people who need temporary help to get back up on their feet, but Democrats are turning the food assistance program on its head,” Hall said. “Without this test measuring people’s wealth, even lottery winners and other millionaires could rake in food stamps paid for with our tax dollars that should be going to those who truly need help feeding their families. Offering food stamps to the rich does nothing to put food on the tables of Michiganders in need.”

More than 700,000 Michigan households currently get benefits from the federally-funded Food Assistance Program, according to theMichigan League for Public Policy, including more than 531,000 children.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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