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In the States

Pennsylvania to “Rethink” SNAP Asset Limit

October 23, 2013
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The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that the state’s new Secretary of Public Welfare, Beverly Mackereth, has indicated she is “rethinking” Pennsylvania’s controversial asset limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/Food Stamps). Pennsylvania is one of only two states to have eliminated their SNAP asset limit and then brought it back.

In California, New Consumer Protections for TANF Families

October 9, 2013
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In August, I wrote about a new bill in California that would extend basic consumer protections to participants in CalWORKs, the state’s cash assistance program, who receive their benefits on prepaid cards. On Friday, Governor Brown announced that he had signed the bill. Here’s why it matters.

New California Retirement Program Puts Out Request for Information

September 16, 2013
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Earlier this year, we published an issue brief about the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program (“CSC”) – a new law championed by state Sen. Kevin de León that aims to connect California’s private sector workers with retirement accounts and curb escalating rates of senior poverty. In California, over six million private sector workers—disproportionately women, people of color and lower-income workers— currently lack access to retirement accounts through their employers, which mirrors national statistics. CSC would automatically enroll these workers in portable accounts with a modest guaranteed rate of return.

Hey Utah: Policymaking via Stereotype Benefits No One

September 12, 2013
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Utah’s recent plan to drug test its TANF applicants, like similar proposals from a range of other states, came under scrutiny earlier this summer after it was revealed that a mere 12 applicants failed the test – which cost taxpayers over $30,000 to administer.

So why is the state now claiming that the policy resulted in savings of over $350,000?

I’m glad you asked.

Economic Mobility from the State Perspective: Indiana

September 5, 2013
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A recent study by economists from Harvard University and University of California at Berkeley caught the eye of many for its first-of-a-kind examination of factors relating to upward economic mobility. Armed with a massive database consisting of 6.3 million children born in 1980 or 1981 - spanning across more than 700 regions, or "commuting zones" in the U.S.  - the authors examined the extent to which these children's parents income determined their own income at the age of 30. With this study in hand, states and regions can now evaluate their policies against hard evidence of what works, and what doesn't, to restore the American Dream.
Speaking of what doesn't work; that shows up clearly in the color-coded map above (an interactive version can be found here). Six southern states make up the largest concentration of low mobility regions in the United States but significant concentrations of low mobility also extends into portions of the Midwest - and right into the heart of Indiana. Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Indianapolis ranks 48th - meaning that only in Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA do children from low-income families have less of a chance at escaping poverty. 
The authors of The Equality of Opportunity Project found four common sense factors associated with greater upward mobility: quality K-12 education; a large middle class and a lack of economic segregation by income; the number of two-parent families; and citizen engagement. The mobility barriers common to the southern region include a failure to invest in quality K-12 education especially for low-income families, a struggling middle class (all six of the southern states have right-to-work laws and low union density), high economic segregation, and a history of voter suppression.
To read more and view statistics about how Indiana compares to the rest of the country, check out the full post on the Indiana Institute for Working Families blog.

New Resources: Asset Limits Website and Policy Papers

July 11, 2013
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Today, the Asset Building Program is unveiling a new online resource about asset limits in public assistance programs. Asset limits have been a hot issue recently in the Farm Bill debate, with the House version of the bill calling for the elimination of states’ flexibility to set their own asset policies for SNAP. Though the House bill failed, the asset limit discussion isn’t over – particularly amidst new proposals to remove SNAP from the Farm Bill entirely, which some predict could be a strategy to pursue even bigger cuts.

This new resource, Modernizing Asset Limits: Promoting Savings, Simplicity and Self-Sufficiency is designed to serve as a tool for policymakers and the public about asset limits in both SNAP and other public assistance programs. It is accompanied by two new written products: a policy statement articulating a clear case for reform of asset limits across programs, and a SNAP-specific issue brief, which complement our recent research paper analyzing the state-level impact of asset tests on program access and administration.

Pennsylvania Asset Test Slows Down Caseworkers

June 26, 2013
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New data from Pennsylvania show that the state is among the slowest in the country in processing applications for its SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) program. What’s causing the delays? Many advocates say too much paperwork and too much red tape – linked to the reinstatement of the SNAP asset test last year.

CalWORKs Reform Boosts Low-Income Families' Financial Security

June 24, 2013
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Last month, I co-authored an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle with Judy Darnell of the United Ways of California, urging the state’s lawmakers to allow participants in its TANF program, CalWORKs, to own a reliable vehicle. Last week, the California state legislature passed its new budget, which modifies the CalWORKs rules to exempt one vehicle worth up to $9500 in equity value, replacing the previous cap of $4650. The new rule also indexes the limit to inflation and excludes vehicles that are received as gifts. This is a small but important step forward toward ensuring that public benefits programs serve as a ladder to financial security for low-income households. This change will have a significant impact for many of the state’s struggling families.

Illinois Senate Votes to Eliminate TANF Asset Limit

May 22, 2013
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On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate voted to become the eighth state to eliminate its TANF asset test—and the second state thus far in 2013. This development reflects a longstanding trend initiated by the states to reform their programs’ asset limits to better support families’ long-term financial stability—while saving time and money in the process. Yet in the current Farm Bill debate happening at the federal level, House Republicans are proposing changes that would completely undermine this wave of progress. Let’s take a look at some key lessons from Illinois about why asset limit reform makes so much sense.

New Issue Brief: The California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program

April 29, 2013
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As we’ve been saying for many years, America faces a retirement savings crisis. We think Congress has a good opportunity to address the crisis, which is why we recently sent comments to the House Ways and Means Committee recommending ways to fix the nation’s retirement system. However, we’ll freely admit that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Today, the Asset Building Program is releasing a new issue brief about an innovative, state-level response to the retirement savings crisis – the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program. Currently, over six million private sector workers in California lack access to a retirement savings account through their employers; nationwide, only about half the private workforce has access to such accounts, and low-income workers have particularly low rates of access. California Secure Choice (“CSC”) would automatically create an account for all private sector workers in the state who lack coverage through their workplace, thus enabling a much broader swath of the population to accumulate essential savings to supplement their Social Security benefits. Below are some key features of the program:

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