Maine Gov. Paul LePage announced a new rule that will exclude Mainers who own assets that exceed $5,000 from receiving food stamps. This “asset test” will be subject to a hearing in the state capitol, Augusta, on Oct. 6 but will not require a legislative vote to be implemented.
The test will ask that those receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits to disclose all of their assets, including bank account balances and vehicles, including snowmobiles, boats, motorcycles and jet skis. The primary vehicle and home value will not be counted and homes that have children will be exempt from the test, Bangor Daily News reports.
“Most Mainers would agree that before someone received taxpayer-funded welfare benefits, they should sell nonessential assets and use their savings,” says Gov. LePage. “Hardworking Mainers should not come home to see snowmobiles, four-wheelers or jet skis in the yards of those who are getting welfare. Welfare is a last resort, not a way of life.”
According to the Portland Press Herald, roughly 225,000 Mainers use SNAP and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services estimates 8,600 will be affected by this rule change.
Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of the Westbrook district has criticized the proposed rule, saying that it “makes someone’s ability to eat contingent on whether they’re able to sell their beat-up snowmobile in Uncle Henry’s. What’s next? Grandma can’t buy groceries until she sells her engagement ring?”
Democratic Rep. Richard Farnsworth of the Portland district also disapproves of the test. “We have so many people who are food insecure and this is just another way to put more people in that category,” he says. “This is morally unconscionable.”
DHHS spokesman David Sorensen defends the rule change, arguing that food stamps must be focused on those in dire need. “If these individuals have $6,000 in the bank, they should pay for their own groceries,” he says.
DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew stands with LePage: “When people see that some are using welfare as a first line of defense to keep their boats and motorcycles, rather than using welfare as a safety net, it hurts the public perception of the program.”
The “asset test” is just one of the many overhauls to Maine’s welfare system introduced during LePage’s administration. In June 2015, the Maine State Legislature passed a bill that banned Maine residents from using SNAP to purchase any products deemed “junk food.”
Starting in April 2015, enrollees in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families have been required to consent to a drug test if called upon before they receive their benefits.