SNAP Asset Limits

At a time when 47 million people are receiving SNAP and state budgets continue to suffer and produce cuts to staff that administer public assistance, understanding the impact of policy choices becomes increasingly consequential. As policy makers continue to evaluate actions to either simplify or reform asset limits or make them more burdensome, research demonstrates that, far from removing safeguards to program integrity and opening supports to increased caseloads, removing asset limits increases efficiency, reduces errors, and can even reduce costs. Perhaps more importantly, it sends the signal that saving, investing in your family’s wellbeing, should be encouraged, and that in times of hardship, families can access the short-term benefits they need without being penalized for taking responsible actions.

Watch SNAP Asset Limits Evolve: 2000-2012

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Policy Benefits

The rapid and expansive elimination of asset limits is a strong testament to the popularity of this policy choice among state governments and has generated a rich evidence base demonstrating the efficiency gains that accompany this change. Considered in concert with the existing research enumerating the benefits of savings among low-income households, these factors affirm the benefits of a pro-savings asset limit policy and argue against changes that would make them more restrictive.

Participant Experiences: Increased Financial Security and Self-Sufficiency

Most families recieve SNAP for a short amount of time...

  • From 2004-2006, for example, half of all new SNAP participants transitioned off support within ten months.   

...Asset limits, however, create a barrier between families and the savings they need to transition to self-sufficiency...

  • In ten states, the asset limit is below the asset poverty level for a family of three of $4,773.
...and create a perception that just having a bank account could disqualify them from SNAP:
  • Among households eligible for, but not receiving SNAP, those with bank accounts are more likely to perceive that they are ineligible than those without a bank account.
  • Significantly, it appears that it is the account ownership itself, not the balance of the account, which is related to the decision not to participate.

Administrative Considerations: Improving Accuracy and Efficiency

Asset limits perform poorly as an eligibility filter, so eliminating asset limits has a minimal impact on participation...

  • For example, in Idaho, from June 2011 to March 2012, only 2.2 percent of SNAP application denials (or, around one half of one percent of all applications) were due to assets exceeding the state’s $5000 limit.
  • Similarly, in FY 2008-2009, before Louisiana eliminated its SNAP asset test, only .18 percent of case closures were due to excess resources.

...But considerable gains in efficiency:

  • As an Ohio administrator explained, “from radiation exposure compensation to Agent Orange settlements, to Japanese ancestry permanent resident survivors’ benefits…there’s just so many different exclusions [from the asset test]…so accuracy for that is hard." “Moving to expanded categorical eligibility policy did save in administrative expenditures as county workers now have less verification to gather.”
  • According to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, "restricting eligibility for SNAP in that way (reinstating asset limits) would increase the time required to verify information on SNAP applications, which would probably result in more errors and greater administrative costs."

Click here to read our policy paper detailing asset limits, "State Asset Limit Reforms and Implications for Federal Policy."
Click here to read our policy statement on reforming asset limits in public assistance programs, "Asset Limits in Public Assistance Programs."
Click here to read our policy brief discussing asset limits in SNAP, "Asset Limits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program."