Public Benefits Programs (Broadly)
Many public benefit programs—such as cash welfare, food assistance and heating assistance—limit eligibility to those with few or no assets. If individuals or families have assets exceeding the state’s limit, they must “spend down” longer-term savings to receive what is often shorter-term public assistance. Personal savings and assets are precisely the kinds of resources that allow people to move off public benefit programs. Yet, asset limits can discourage anyone considering or receiving public benefits from saving for the future.
States determine many key policies related to public benefits and have discretion in setting or eliminating asset limits for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp program. The best option is for states to eliminate TANF, SNAP and LIHEAP asset limits entirely. The existence of an asset limit, no matter how high, sends a signal to program applicants and participants that they should not save or build assets.