State Policy Choices: Assets and Access to Public Assistance

Dinan, Kinsey Alden

Most low-income families have few if any assets to help them weather even a short-term loss of employment. Policies designed to assist low-income families can contribute to this problem by penalizing those who accumulate assets. In some states, even small levels of savings or a single car can make families ineligible for TANF cash assistance, food stamps, and public health insurance. Policies should recognize the need to develop assets as part of the path to economic self-sufficiency. Recipients should be allowed to purchase vehicles—often critical to finding and keeping a job—and build modest savings. And low-income families faced with a financial crisis should be able to get supports without giving up their car or exhausting their savings. Over the past several years, states have gained increased discretion to determine the treatment of family assets in benefit eligibility criteria. Asset tests now vary widely both across policies and across states.

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National Center for Children in Poverty
National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University
Published Here
July 8, 2010