- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration on Wednesday announced a rule change that would make households without children ineligible for food stamps if they have assets greater than $5,000.

The rule change says those applying or re-applying for food stamps will be required to disclose their assets. LePage said the move stems from his belief that welfare is “a last resort” and should not be treated like “a way of life.”

The state is defining assets as the balance of bank accounts plus boats, recreational vehicles, campers and other valuable items. It does not include equity in a home or a household’s primary vehicle, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services said.

LePage said most Maine residents would agree that before people receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits they should sell non-essential assets and use their savings.

“Hardworking Mainers should not come home to see snowmobiles, four-wheelers or Jet Skis in the yards of those who are getting welfare,” he said.

The move is the latest in a series of attempts by LePage to tighten the reins on welfare programs.

This year the state began administering drug-screening assessments to recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program who have been convicted of drug felony crimes. The governor also sought to expand drug screening for all TANF recipients and to cut benefits for those with drug felonies, but lawmakers rejected those ideas.

Democrats were swift to condemn the assets test. Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, of Portland, said the move is rooted in judgment of the poor.

“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,” Alfond said.

But LePage’s fellow Republicans lauded the move. House Republican Leader Rep. Ken Fredette, of Newport, said the move is in compliance with federal law and underscores that tax dollars “must be used for those most in need.”

The proposed rule change will be the subject of an Oct. 6 hearing in Augusta. The Department of Health and Human Services said it hopes to fully implement the rule in the coming weeks.

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