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Early adjournment could stop bill seeking to expand welfare eligibility

The announcement of an early conclusion to Maine’s legislative session amid public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak could stop in its tracks a bill that would significantly broaden eligibility standards for public assistance programs.

LD 2154, “An Act Regarding Asset Tests for Social Services Programs” was referenced to the Committee on Health and Human Services pursuant to Joint Rule 218 and would eliminate asset testing for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the statewide food supplement program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Under the bill, new language would be added to Maine law establishing broad-based categorical eligibility. The new language states:

“To the extent allowable under federal law, the department shall adopt rules that maximize access to the food supplement program for eligible households with incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level by providing such households with a noncash Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program funded service or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program state maintenance of effort funded benefit. Such individuals must be considered categorically eligible for the food supplement program, and any eligibility requirement related to asset limits is considered to be met for these households.”

In addition, the bill directs the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to disregard all assets in determining eligibility and the need for assistance within the TANF program.

Depending on the makeup of a household, maximum allowable assets under the SNAP program vary up to $5,000 and $2,000 for each filing unit under the TANF program.

The bill is the result of a resolution passed in the first session prompting the Department of Health and Human Services to convene a stakeholder group to study eligibility requirements related to public assistance programs. Specifically, the stakeholder group was tasked with examining “asset limits to determine if they meet the appropriate missions of the programs or present barriers.”

The bill was released by the Revisor’s Office last week, though the bill will not receive a public hearing, at least in the near-term. That is because, in addition to its early adjournment, the legislature announced it is cancelling all committee hearings, including public hearings, work sessions and other hearings for the rest of session, with the exception of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which is still working to approve a supplemental budget.

The notice released by the Legislative Information Office Monday reads:

In response to the rapidly changing health crisis, the Presiding Officers of the Maine Legislature have cancelled all committee meetings, including public hearings, work sessions, and confirmation hearings for the rest of the session, with the exception of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee.

The Legislature will hold chamber sessions tomorrow and expects to adjourn sine die at its conclusion.

Other unfinished matters will be carried over until the Legislature reconvenes. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding. Hundreds of lawmakers, advocates and legislative staffers come from all across the state to work at the State House each day. Suspending the legislative session is the responsible thing to do. 

Thank you for doing your part. If we all prioritize our health and stay informed, we can protect the safety of all those around us. 

It is unclear when and if lawmakers will return to Augusta to finish the business of the 129th Legislature. If they do not return, LD 2154 and hundreds of other bills would die on the vine and would have to be reintroduced as new legislation once a new slate of lawmakers are sworn in as members of the 130th Maine Legislature.