It’s not often that we Arkansans get to brag about being a national leader in any type of rankings (although that is about to change). But when it comes to the state of our food stamps program, believe it or not, we’re doing pretty darn good: we have a strong asset limit, a strong income limit, and strong work requirements for able-bodied adults in the program.
This has made the Left very unhappy.
Consider, for example, a call from the left-leaning Arkansas Center for Health Care Improvement, which usually focuses on health policy. Their rally cry, in conjunction with the liberal Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, is to eliminate Arkansas's strong food stamp asset test entirely, letting millionaires into the program.
Thankfully, this cannot be done without legislative action: Rep. Austin McCollum had the foresight to codify it into state law in 2017, protecting it from the whims of special interests and Little Rock liberals.
(It’s a good thing he did. Just last legislative session, there was a concerted effort by special interest groups to drastically weaken Arkansas’s strong asset test. Thankfully, it was opposed so strongly that it was never even brought up for a vote before the full Senate.)
But now, proponents of welfare expansion have decided to double-down on their mission to expand welfare by raising the asset limit by even higher than their 2021 proposal.
This push has come to life in the form of SB306, sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang and Sen. Clarke Tucker, which would raise the cash asset limit to a staggering $12,500 with a built-in increase every single year.
There are six reasons major reasons why this is a bad idea for Arkansas.
Arkansas’s current asset limit is tailored to protect the food stamp program for the truly vulnerable. Individuals with liquid assets up to $2,750—or $4,250 for households with elderly or disabled residents—can remain on the program.
Meanwhile, assets like one’s home, primary vehicle, personal goods, pensions, and life insurance policies do not count towards this asset limit.
Increasing the asset limit by any amount would diminish this strong protection that ensures Arkansans with significant cash cannot take benefits intended for those who truly have no other options.
The current proposal of a 350 percent increase in a single year (SB306) would help those that are well-off at the expense of the truly needy.
By nearly quintupling the asset limit—and raising it by inflation every single year—an unknown number of Arkansans would become trapped in the cycle of dependency. Nobody knows the exact number, but undoubtedly tens of thousands of Arkansans would be added to the welfare rolls in a short period of time.
With the bill’s automatic inflation adjuster, more and more Arkansans would join the food stamp program every single year with no end in sight, further siphoning resources from the truly needy.
While we have made significant strides in food stamp reform over the last several years, Arkansas has unfortunately seen a recent spike in enrollment.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Arkansas experienced the largest month-over-month increase in food stamp enrollment in the entire nation.
Our enrollment spiked by nearly 14 percent in a single month, while enrollment nationwide (and in several surrounding states) actually fell. If we hike the asset limit, enrollment will certainly spike even more because more people will be eligible for the program.
Shockingly, SB306 has no fiscal note, meaning legislators and taxpayers alike have no idea what the costs to taxpayers actually would be. While most food stamp dollars are federally funded, there undoubtedly would be administrative costs to managing thousands more enrollees on the program.
Further, Arkansas taxpayers have every right to care about federal spending as well—because every single Arkansas taxpayer is also a federal taxpayer.
If SB306 were to become law, the added federal costs will be covered by saddling even more government debt on the backs of future generations.
$12,500 is not chump change, considering the median American has about $3,500 in their bank account. In Arkansas, $12,500 in cash could pay for:
Clearly, raising the asset limit to this level doesn’t help the truly needy. It helps those with a significant amount of cash on hand.
A recent poll by Opportunity Arkansas Foundation found that, by a more than two-to-one margin, Arkansas voters support retaining the existing asset limit. This includes a majority of Republican voters, as well as a plurality of both Democrats and Independents.
This is not surprising, as hiking the food stamp asset limit would place Arkansas behind its neighbors like Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Mississippi. Our asset limit would turn from a model policy into a nightmare.
For all these reasons and more, Arkansas policymakers should work to protect, not erode, our strong asset test. In so doing, they can protect the program for the most vulnerable and keep Arkansas as a national leader in food stamp reform.