Minnesota millionaire receives food stamps; Lawmaker tries to close loophole

March 20, 2019 10:21 PM

Rob Undersander told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he was doing research in 2017 to help other people navigate the world of retirement and government benefits when he discovered he qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which is commonly referred to as food stamps.

"I was surprised and it did not make any sense, to me," said Undersander. "So, I went down to Stearns County, stood in line, applied for food stamps and a few weeks later received by food stamp card in the mail."


Undersander said he did not realize to qualify for SNAP individuals only needed to supply the government with their net income information and assets were not counted toward any future, or current, income.

"It just did not seem possible that I could be considered a millionaire, based on my assets, yet still qualify for a low-income program under the current rules which is just bad policy to me," said Undersander.

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"I support the SNAP program and all I want to do is find out how many people, like me, are out there who have assets that make a difference in determining whether they should qualify," said Undersander.

"Because, if you count assets, you might find there is more money in the program to help those who are truly in need and could make the system more efficient and keep people with a lot of assets off food stamps," Undersander added.

State Senator, Jeff Howe, (R) Rockville, told KSTP he has a bill that would close what he calls a "loophole" in the SNAP system and still make sure people who need food assistance get it as soon as they need it.

"My bill would allow people to collect food stamps for the first four months," said Howe.  "It would also allow them to have $20,000 in savings, own a home and two cars before any assets are counted as income qualifiers."

Howe said there is no way to know how many people with high assets, and low income on paper, qualify for SNAP and that's why his bill would help determine the actual need rather than perceived need.

"It has worked in other states where they have asset limits," said Howe. "And research shows those states have reduced the number of people on the program and reduced the number of people needed to administer the program because there were people receiving the help when they had a lot of assets."

Minnesota Legal Aid attorney Jessica Webster told a Senate Committee last week the proposed changes to the SNAP qualifying program would not work.

"These asset limits will not help very low-income families who need immediate assistance," said Webster.  "It is very costly to implement and it takes away the incentive of low-income people to save money."

Webster told lawmakers she never anticipated having to defend the SNAP system because wealthy people would be testing its validity and its performance.

"I never imagined I would have to address the issue of a millionaire gaming the SNAP system," said Webster.  "I cannot guarantee this would not happen again, but I do think setting asset limits will hurt people who need this program."

Federal statistics show there are approximately 500,000 Minnesotans annually who utilize the SNAP system.

Undersander said he received about $6,000 in benefits in 2017 and he donated all the food to charities.

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Jay Kolls

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