AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats in the House of Representatives supported bids to make social services easier to acquire for veterans, homeless people and elderly Mainers, but the bills are unlikely to be enacted with most Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage leaning hard against program expansions.

In preliminary House votes, LD 689 and LD 1538 were supported 80-66 and 78-68, respectively.

LD 689 would make people who are older than 65 or disabled eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, if their income is 185 percent or less of the federal poverty rate. The bill would eliminate asset tests, which take the value of a person’s property into account, for those populations.

Currently, those populations are eligible if their income is within 165 percent of the poverty rate, which translates to $1,634 per month for an individual. The cost of the bill would be about $16,700 for technology upgrades.

SNAP benefits are funded by the federal government but administered by the states.

LD 1538 is aimed at military service veterans. It would abolish some time limits associated with work and volunteering requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at a cost of about $45,500 for technology upgrades.

Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, sponsored both bills. He argued during House debate Monday that the elimination of asset tests would benefit people in the long term and avoid the need for additional taxpayer-funded services in the future.

“Any nest egg should be considered finite,” said Hamann. “When they use it up, that’s it.”

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, argued and voted against both bills.

“We need to make sure that those who are receiving services are the ones who can least afford to take care of themselves,” she said. “That’s why an asset test is important.”

On the bill for veterans, Hamann said veterans deserve easier access to social service programs because “they wove that safety net through their service to our country,” but Rep. Chris Johansen, R-Monticello, who is a veteran, disagreed.

“As a veteran I don’t want to be placed in a new welfare program,” he said. “I want to be treated just like everyone else. I resent this bill.”

Both bills face several more votes in both chambers of the Legislature and would be sent to LePage for consideration if enacted and funded.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.