Center for American Progress

RELEASE: A Deadly Poverty Trap: Asset Limits in the Time of the Coronavirus
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new attention to the harms caused by “asset limits,” or “asset tests,” which prevent people from receiving many life-sustaining public benefit programs if their resources exceed a certain limit.

new analysis from the Center for American Progress looks at the ways in which asset limits are particularly harmful to people with disabilities, ultimately trapping them in poverty and entrenching ableism. The column finds that asset limits harm disabled people in myriad ways, including the following:

  • Financial exclusion: Disabled people experience poverty at more than twice the rate of their nondisabled peers. There is evidence that shows that people who receive means-tested public assistance are more likely to be “asset poor” than low-income people who are not enrolled.
  • Increase surveillance and criminalization: Since the 1990s, people receiving public benefits have been subject to intrusive surveillance programs, which are often used as a way to punish people who have remained out of reach of the criminal legal system. At the same time, asset limits trap recipients in economically precarious positions, leaving them with few legal means to support themselves
  • Devaluation of disabled people’s lives and labor: The ableist myth of self-sufficiency undergirds the stated rationale for asset limits to restrict eligibility, while also making it incredibly difficult for people to work because their earnings could disqualify them for benefits.

The CAP analysis also explores several initiatives to overhaul the burdens caused by asset limits including:

  • The recently introduced Allowing Steady Savings by Eliminating Tests (ASSET) Act would eliminate asset limits for several key programs. Moreover, it would raise the asset limits associated with supplemental security income from $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples to $10,000 and $20,000, respectively, eliminating the marriage penalty. Crucially, it would also index the new limits to inflation.
  • Policymakers should expand the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which allows people with disabilities to open tax-advantaged savings accounts without affecting their eligibility for certain means-tested programs.
  • States can raise or eliminate limits for food assistance and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

“Asset limits trap people in a cycle of poverty and, because they make it impossible to accumulate even modest savings, have made disabled people among the least able to weather the dual public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Azza Altiraifi, a research and advocacy manager for the Disability Justice Initiative at CAP and author of the column. “As federal and state officials pass policies to mitigate the economic crisis, they should act quickly to eliminate asset limits.”

Read the column: “A Deadly Poverty Trap: Asset Limits in the Time of the Coronavirus” by Azza Altiraifi

For more information or to speak to an expert, please contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.