An estimated 8,600 food stamp recipients in Maine whose assets exceed $5,000 may soon be ineligible to receive benefits, according to a new policy announced by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday.
Under the rule, disclosure of certain assets will be required when applying or re-applying for food stamps. If those assets exceed $5,000 in value, the applicant will be ineligible for benefits. The asset limit will apply to cash, snowmobiles, boats and motorcycles, among other items. Assets will not include home equity or the household’s primary vehicle.
“For too long Maine has had a loose welfare system that hands out benefits that other states wouldn’t,” said David Sorensen, adding that the new policy is meant to reverse the “culture of dependency” in the state.
The change, an effort to ensure that the food stamp (or SNAP) program is used as a last resort by those who have exhausted other options, was praised by Governor LePage. “Most Mainers would agree that before someone receives taxpayer-funded welfare benefits, they should sell non-essential assets and use their savings,” LePage said. “Hard-working Mainers should not … see snowmobiles, four-wheelers or jet skis in the yards of those who are getting welfare.”
“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,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who has a long record of curbing inefficiencies in Maine’s welfare system.
The change represents a continuation of the reforms to the food stamp program begun in 2014, when the LePage administration re-imposed work requirements for able-bodied adults, causing a dramatic drop in enrollments.
Some Democrats oppose the change, claiming that it places judgment on Mainers facing difficult times. However, Democratic Senator Anne Haskell of Portland approves of the concept.
DHHS hopes to begin implementing the rule by November 1st.
A public hearing will be held in Augusta on October 6th to discuss the policy.