Mackereth
Mackereth

PHILADELPHIA - Pennsylvania's top public welfare official says she is reconsidering the state's widely criticized asset test for food stamps.

Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth told The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board that she is "rethinking" the 17-month-old test, the newspaper reported Wednesday.

The test, implemented under Mackereth's predecessor, Gary Alexander, requires applicants to prove they don't have significant personal assets before they can qualify for food stamps.

Households with people younger than 60 cannot have more than $5,500 in assets, while those with older or disabled people are allowed to have $9,000 in assets.

Critics say the application process is so complicated that many deserving people cannot get food stamps, which are now called SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

During the first year of the test, 4,000 households were turned down for having too many financial resources, while 111,000 were denied SNAP benefits because they failed to provide proper documentation, the Inquirer reported.

"The asset test adds unnecessary red tape," said Julie Zaebst of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

A DPW spokeswoman did not immediately return telephone and email messages seeking further information about the status of asset testing.

About 1.8 Pennsylvania families receive food stamps. The department has acknowledged that the incidence of food-stamp fraud is low in the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which finances the SNAP program, has lauded Pennsylvania's program as well-run.

In the interview, Mackereth sought to distance herself from Alexander, a Rhode Island resident who vowed to cut costs in the massive department by rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. Alexander resigned in February, and top lawmakers say he never delivered on the pledge to find substantial savings from waste, fraud and abuse.

"My focus is not waste, fraud and abuse," Mackereth said. "My primary focus is getting services to people who are entitled to them."