WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Allowing Steady Savings by Eliminating Tests, or ASSET, Act to eliminate asset limitations that restrict eligibility for three vital public assistance programs and raise the asset limitation for a fourth program. U.S. Representatives Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) and Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-Wash.) introduced companion legislation in the House.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) help low-income families, particularly those with children, meet basic needs like food and heating. However, currently, federal law gives states flexibility in determining eligibility for benefits on the basis of not only income, but also the assets of a family, such as a savings account and vehicle ownership. Asset limits for savings are outdated and often set as low as $1,000 or $2,000, limiting a family’s preparedness for a medical emergency or unanticipated expense. Some states have recognized this flawed public policy and have chosen to eliminate asset limitations on these programs. The ASSET Act would establish a consistent policy across the country, which would encourage household savings, increase financial security of families, and reduce administrative costs for states.
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program reduces extreme poverty among the elderly and people with disabilities. While asset limits are part of the SSI program design, limits have not been raised or even adjusted for inflation since 1989. The ASSET Act raises SSI asset limits from $2,000 to $10,000 for an individual and $3,000 to $20,000 for a couple, and indexes those thresholds to inflation.
“As Americans across the country are trying to recover from the economic and health crises created by COVID-19, public assistance programs serve as a critical lifeline for families, but the counterproductive limits placed on savings prevent recipients from withstanding financial emergencies and moving off public assistance programs,” said Senator Coons. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation that would remove misguided incentives and unnecessary red tape in these programs, so low-income Americans can access the help they need.”
“This bill puts Ohioans first. By eliminating arbitrary, out-of-date restrictions that prevent Ohioans from saving for emergencies, we can help to both streamline assistance for families and mitigate administrative backlogs,” said Senator Brown.“As we continue to recover from the economic and health crises, I’ll continue to support legislation that helps ensure Ohioans aren’t punished for saving a little extra money, in order to be prepared for medical emergencies and unexpected expenses.”
“If working families are to have any chance to thrive in this country, we need to bolster our social safety net and remove unnecessary and harmful eligibility rules,”said Representative Gomez. “In a country where most people cannot afford a surprise $500 medical or auto repair bill, the ASSET Act represents a new, transformative vision for public assistance. While we recover from the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, we should not be penalizing Americans who are struggling to get by. Instead, we need to boost those hurt most by job loss, low wages, and poverty by ensuring they have a robust social safety net that works for them.”
“Asset limits for public assistance programs are outdated. You shouldn’t have to lose your car to get help affording food,” said Representative Schrier, M.D. “The ASSET Act strikes the right balance between giving families the opportunity to build their savings while also still receiving critical benefits to keep everyone fed with healthy food and the heat on.”
In addition to Senators Coons and Brown, the ASSET Act is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
The bill is endorsed by Prosperity Now, Alliance to End Hunger, Bread for the World, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Children's HealthWatch, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Social Security Task Force, Coalition on Human Needs, Feeding America, First Focus Campaign for Children, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Justice in Aging, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, National Women’s Law Center, The Arc, UnidosUS, Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council (DCRAC), Delaware Community Legal Aid Society (CLASI), Food Bank of Delaware, Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, REACH Riverside, and United Way of Delaware.
The bill text is available here.
The one-pager is available here.