State Senator Justin Alfond photo and article by Ramona du Houx
Governor Paul LePage announced today that his administration would begin enforcing an “asset test” for applicants to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.
Mainers with assets topping $5,000 and who don’t have children will be ineligible for food stamps under LePage’s new plan announced September 16th by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. The assets to be counted, if the new rule is applied, will include bank account balances, snowmobiles, boats, motorcycles, jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, recreational vehicles, campers and other valuable assets, according to a news release.
For years, the state has waived the asset test in recognition that Mainers need assistance, not judgment, in their moments of need.
“Our social safety net is designed to catch people before they fall far enough to hit rock bottom. For many Mainers who are down on their luck, SNAP is the first line of defense against the downward spiral of poverty,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland.
The average monthly SNAP benefit per person in Maine is below the national average. According to the USDA, the federal agency that administers SNAP to states, among all the states Maine ranks 50th in the average SNAP benefit per household.
“Food stamps are meant to temporarily keep people afloat long enough to prevent them from becoming destitute,” said Alfond. “Who are we to judge our most needy neighbors before extending a helping hand? We shouldn’t be building needless barriers between them and the help they need.”
LePage has often stated that SNAP and other benefits "cost" the state too much. But the truth is SNAP and those other benefits are federally funded.
“Common sense says that someone with a ton of cash on hand isn’t truly needy,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “But Governor LePage and Commissioner Mayhew are willing to make someone’s ability to eat contingent on whether they’re able to sell their beat-up snowmobile on Uncle Henry’s. What next? Grandma can’t buy groceries until she sells her engagement ring? They need to focus on growing economic opportunity and moving people into sustainable employment rather than adding a layer of bureaucracy to government that does nothing to save taxpayer dollars or help people in real need.”
A public hearing on the proposed new rule is scheduled for Oct. 6 in Augusta.
DHHS estimates that the rule change would affect about 8,600 people who are on food stamps. Maine has already reduced the number of Mainers collecting food stamps by over 5,000. A new rule implemented by the LePage administration requires able-bodied 18- to 49-year-old adults to either be working or in an active job search in order to receive food stamps.