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Sens. Coons, Brown introduce bill to counter safety net cuts pushed by Trump Administration

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 limits as a means of eligibility for three vital public assistance programs and raise asset limits for a fourth program. U.S. Representatives TJ Cox (D-Calif.), Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-Wash.), and Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the House today.

The bill presents an alternative vision for vital public assistance programs. Rather than shredding the safety net by imposing new bureaucratic hurdles for families, as proposed by President Trump in his budget released this week, the ASSET Act would increase the financial security of low-income families by helping them save for the future and move towards self-sufficiency.

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, these public assistance programs limit eligibility for benefits on the basis of not only income, but the assets of a family, such as savings and other resources. Asset limits for savings are outdated and often set as low as $1,000 or $2,000, limiting a family’s preparedness for a medical emergency or unanticipated expense. The ASSET Act would eliminate these savings penalties, reducing administrative costs and resulting in a consistent policy across the country.

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.

“The federal government already imposes too much red tape and misguided incentives in public assistance programs,” said Senator Coons. “That’s why we’re proposing a different reform, to remove asset tests, so that families in times of need can get help with less confusion, less paperwork, and without being penalized for saving and building their own financial security.”

“It’s past time to eliminate arbitrary out-of-date restrictions that prevent Ohioans from saving for emergencies,” said Senator Brown. “This legislation will help ensure Ohioans aren’t punished for saving a little extra money, in order to be prepared for medical emergencies and unexpected expenses.”

“Right now, many safety net programs punish working families for saving money. Building wealth is the key to helping kids and families thrive, but the asset limits put on key programs penalize saving for emergencies, education, or retirement. In my time in Congress and my career in community development, I’ve learned that restrictions like these can stop many working families from making it out of poverty,” said Representative Cox. “By eliminating these asset limits, the ASSET Act will allow families to save for emergencies without risking their access to vital programs that help them make ends meet. This bill makes anti-poverty programs do what they’re actually supposed to do: Lift working families out of poverty.”

“Asset limits for public assistance programs are outdated. You shouldn’t have to lose your car to get help affording food,” said Representative Schrier. “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.”

“Programs like TANF and SNAP are critical components to our country’s social safety net system,” said Representative Gomez. “Yet all too often, burdensome asset limits hinder the ability to help low-income Americans with the resources needed to lift themselves out of poverty. The ASSET Act not only eliminates these limits, but it also encourages working families and individuals to prioritize their own economic development without the fear of penalties that could cost them their livelihoods.”

In addition to Senators Coons and Brown, the ASSET Act is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

The bill is endorsed by Alliance to End Hunger, Bread for the World, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Children’s HealthWatch, Coalition on Human Needs, Delaware Community Legal Aid Society, Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Food Bank of Delaware, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), First Focus Campaign for Children, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Women’s Law Center, Prosperity Now, REACH Riverside, United Way of Delaware, and UnidosUS. Quotes from endorsers available here
The bill text is available here
The one-pager is available here.

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