AUGUSTA — A public hearing Tuesday to debate a new asset test to qualify for food stamps drew about 30 people to the State House.

The test would require that families without children have no more than $5,000 in total assets, including bank accounts, snowmobiles, recreational vehicles and ATVs, in order to qualify.

Homes and a household’s primary vehicle are exempt from the test.

Maine Department of Health and Human Services officials have said that food stamps should be a last resort, and the program is not intended for people who have the means to buy their own groceries.

But critics say the asset test would be a disincentive to savings and keep low-income people from climbing into the middle class.

“Research shows that assets are crucial to helping families escape poverty and climb the economic ladder,” said Ann Woloson, policy analyst for Maine Equal Justice Partners.

Regardless of what is said at the public hearing, the LePage administration intends to implement the new rule in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, state Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, is proposing a bill that would repeal the new asset test.

A West Newfield senior, Martha Morrison, said in a written statement that she has between $5,000 and $15,000 in savings, which must last her the rest of her life, and not having food stamps will be a further hardship.

But another woman at the hearing, Beth Drugach of Saco, said she sees abuses in the system, and that people should sell their assets before asking for food stamps.

“I don’t have a camper and I don’t have a boat because I can’t afford it,” she said.

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