Maine Debates $5,000 Asset Test For Food Stamp Eligibility

| by Sean Kelly
woman speaking at hearingwoman speaking at hearing

A public hearing was held on Oct. 6 to debate a plan to reinstate Maine’s asset test for food stamp eligibility, and the plan was met with both praise and sharp criticism.

The hearing, which was attended by 30 residents at the state house in Augusta, took on the controversial asset test, which set to be reinstated in the coming weeks, the Portland Press Herald reports. The test would make it so that Maine residents with more than $5,000 in certain assets are unable to receive food stamps.

The food stamp program is officially named the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

Those against the plan argued that the asset test would present administrative burdens due to potential errors that would prevent qualified people from obtaining food stamps. It would also require people who might need food stamps for a short period of time to sell their belongings in order to do so, according to critics.

“In the end, we simply don’t understand why this is a top priority for our state,” Good Shepherd Food Bank spokeswoman Clara Whitney said. "There is so much work to be done to connect people with education, training and good jobs. … Maine is going in the wrong direction.”

Assets such as snowmobiles, recreational vehicles, and bank accounts would all qualify as relevant to the $5,000 limit. Homes and primary vehicles are exempt from the test, as are personal items such as guitars.

Some also voiced concerns that the plan would be a disincentive to savings and could prevent low-income citizens from moving up to the middle class.

“Research shows that assets are crucial to helping families escape poverty and climb the economic ladder,” Maine Equal Justice Partners policy analyst Ann Woloson said. 

Other hearing attendees praised the measure, noting that it would prevent people from abusing the system.

The asset test, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, will be implemented by mid-November.

Sources: Portland Press Herald, Bangor Daily News / Photo credit: Christopher Cousins/Bangor Daily News, U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr