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State may raise asset limits for public assistance


Public assistance recipients might be able to put away more in savings under a proposal before the state legislature.

Proponents of the measure argue that allowing aid recipients to save more gives them a better chance of achieving self-sufficiency.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill asking the state Department of Human Services to study the impact of doubling Hawaii’s asset limit for government aid participants from $5,000 to $10,000.

Rather than taking testimony at the hearing, the committee relied on testimony and reports from previous committee hearings.

The bill has received support in hearings throughout the session from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and University of Hawaii’s Bridge to Hope program, among others.

The Hawaii Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development pointed out that assets are essential for financial security in difficult times, to create economic opportunities and to leave a legacy for future generations.

Noting that the Temporary Aid for Needy Families asset limit is $5,000, the alliance’s asset policy coordinator Brent Dillabaugh stated in written testimony, “If individuals or families have assets exceeding this limit, they must ‘spend-down’ longer-term savings.”

“Personal savings and assets are precisely the kinds of resources that allow people to move off public benefit programs and having such low asset limits can discourage anyone considering or receiving public benefits from saving for the future,” he added.

OHA had included a similar proposal in its own legislative package, asking that the asset limit be raised to $15,000. In testimony, the agency said it would prefer to see the asset limit increased to more than $10,000 but would support any improvement to the status quo.

Teresa Bill, who runs Bridge to Hope, a UH program that helps welfare recipients pursue higher education, said asset limits force families to choose between saving and staying on public assistance. Emergency savings, she notes, can be a critical buffer against unexpected job loss or expenses like car repairs.

However, asset limits force families to spend down their savings or have their benefits withheld.

“This forced spending and withholding of financial assistance (and foodstamps) until a family has lost everything contradicts every tenet of family financial stability,” she points out.

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