Amended proposal to increase some Arkansans’ food stamp asset limit goes to Sanders’ desk
Sanders said she would not sign a previous version of Senate Bill 306
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Legislation meant to help some Arkansans save money while still receiving federal nutrition assistance is on Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ desk after clearing the state Legislature on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 306 initially would have raised the resource limit to $12,500 for Arkansans to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps.
An amendment in March lowered the proposed limit to $6,000, and the bill passed the Senate with 21 “yes” votes from 15 Republicans and all six Democrats. Nine Republicans voted no and five voted present.
Sanders said she disapproved of the bill at the time.
“We oppose expanding welfare and trapping more people in lifetime dependency that is paid for by the labor of hardworking taxpayers,” a Sanders spokeswoman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on March 16.
A Sanders spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a question on Tuesday about whether Sanders would veto the legislation.
The bill was further amended in the House. It would maintain the current limit of $2,250 for most families receiving SNAP benefits, but it would allow the state to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for exemptions for individual families with more assets.
Those families would have a new asset limit of $5,500 and remain enrolled in SNAP as long as they receive an exemption within a year of exceeding the current limit, said Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 306. Recipients who qualify for the “temporary increase” would only be allowed one exemption every five years, the bill states.
“We’re just giving them some flexibility to continue on the path where clearly they’re being responsible and trying to improve their situation,” Dismang told the Arkansas Advocate.
Asset limits are not the same as income limits, according to current SNAP eligibility requirements published by the state Department of Human Services. Income limits depend on the number of people in a household, from $1,473 gross monthly income for a one-person household to $5,052 for eight people.
Resources that count toward the asset limit include cash on hand and in the bank, savings certificates and stocks and bonds, among other things.
Resources that do not count toward the asset limit include a home, life insurance and some vehicles, including those that help a family produce income. The rules exempt $4,650 of the value of a household’s vehicle for each employed person and each student attending school.
Dismang previously told the Senate that the current asset limit discourages poor Arkansans from saving enough money to become financially stable because they might lose reliable access to food in the process. He said Tuesday that the Legislature should “have a much bigger discussion about” what behaviors are encouraged and discouraged by the state’s current benefits programs.
“I think we want people to improve themselves, we want people saving, we want people to be able to break the cycle of poverty, and as long as we have artificial thresholds in place… I think that’s something we should be debating,” Dismang said.
He added that he was “not thrilled about the outcome” after both amendments to Senate Bill 306 but acknowledged that the bill could still help some Arkansans.
“As long as we’re improving, I think we’re going in the right direction,” he said.
The federal minimum asset limit for SNAP benefits is $2,750, but Arkansas still adheres to a previous limit of $2,250. The limit is $3,500 for families with a member who has a disability or is over 60 years old.
So far, 34 states and the District of Columbia have received a federal exemption and eliminated SNAP asset limits. Arkansas would have asked USDA for the same waiver under the two previous versions of Senate Bill 306, but the request outlined in the current version of the bill would be “a complicated thing” since “no other state has anything like this in place,” Dismang said.
“If there’s something that can be attained in this type of waiver, I think that gives us some room to work in a direction that other states haven’t moved in,” he said. “Maybe there’s more to being able to ask for those specific types of waivers.”
The twice-amended bill passed the House last week with 65 votes for it and 16 against it. Four members voted present and 15 did not vote.
The bill passed the Senate again Tuesday with 24 “yes” votes. The same 21 senators voted for the bill both times. Three more Republicans supported the bill: Sen. Steve Crowell of Magnolia, who voted present the first time, and Sens. Ben Gilmore of Crossett and Gary Stubblefield of Branch, who voted no the first time.
Seven Republican senators voted no, two voted present and one did not vote.
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