LePage’s food stamp asset test gets public hearing Tuesday

Good morning from … my couch in Gardiner. (I don’t actually go to work until after the Daily Brief is done.) There’s not much on tap in Augusta today, but as you all know, that can always change.

Legislators have submitted proposed bills for the upcoming session in January. The list came out Friday, and we’ll take a closer look at that today. Also, the Sun Journal is hosting a Lewiston mayoral debate tonight. — Michael Shepherd

Asset test for food stamps to get public hearing, but it’s a formality

Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to block Mainers with more than $5,000 in assets— with some exceptions — from getting food stamps will get a public hearing on Tuesday. That test is defined in federal law, but Maine has waived it in recent years, and so have most other states.

The value of a home or a household’s primary vehicle won’t count in the test, but bank account balances, boats, snowmobiles, motorcycles, jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, campers and other things will. DHHS estimates that it will affect 8,600 people in the program now.

In defending the change, which was announced last month, LePage, a Republican, called welfare “a last resort, not a way of life” and said Mainers “should not come home to see snowmobiles, four-wheelers or jet skis in the yards of those who are getting welfare.”

But Democrats and other advocates have said it’ll make it harder for people to get out of poverty. It can also be difficult to implement, according to Governing magazine. In Pennsylvania, A Democratic governor got rid of the test in 2008 and his Republican successor brought it back.

Now, Democrat Tom Wolf has gotten rid of it again, with his administration estimating that it cost $3.5 million to administer each year and caseworkers made errors that resulted in $1.5 million that didn’t go to people who should have qualified.

There may be some compelling testimony at the Maine hearing, but the rule doesn’t require legislative approval, so the Department of Health and Human Services can implement the change by itself after the hearing, which is at 1 p.m. at the department’s building on Union Street in Augusta. — Michael Shepherd

Susan Collins calls for increased mental health access after Oregon mass shooting

At an event in Augusta on Saturday — two days after Christopher Harper-Mercer killed nine people and wounded more than two dozen others at an Oregon community college — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, called for passage of a bill she’s co-sponsoring, according to the Kennebec Journal.

The Mental Health Reform Act, would integrate mental and physical health services, focus on early intervention for children and increase federal oversight of mental health providers.

After the Oregon shooting, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, renewed a longtime call for “common-sense gun legislation,” including expansions of federal background checks before gun purchases.

That’s opposed by most Republicans, although Collins has a mixed record on gun control. She was one of four Republicans to vote for a background check compromise that failed in 2013, but she has opposed a national gun registry and a ban on assault rifles. Maine’s senior senator is worth watching as the gun debate continues. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Picking (and then catching) ’em all

I hope everybody enjoyed a beautiful fall weekend in Maine. This is the best time to live here. I did some apple picking yesterday, and now, I have a shopping bag full of apples that I don’t know what to do with.

While going to grab lunch in Whitefield, I saw this posting on the bulletin board. It’s apparently from a kid named Jacobey, who runs a Pokemon club. To get in, you have to beat him.

I like this kid’s boldness. I hope he’s gotten some takers.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.