General assistance rules complicated

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DEAR SUN SPOTS: Thank you for your column and the services you provide. This letter concerns the new general assistance order in Maine. It is many pages long, and one requirement for anyone to receive assistance is they must cash in any life insurance policies they have.

Can you find out if this is true? Thank you for any information you can give on this. — No Name, No Town

ANSWER: Sun Spots does not think there is a yes-or-no answer to this question. Life insurance policies vary greatly, as a previous column on the topic noted (http://tinyurl.com/lfy9v4r). Some may not even have a cash value.

As you noted, the document outlining the rules for general assistance is extensive, but it offers only this small mention on life insurance (at least as far as Sun Spots could find). At maine.gov, she found Section 5.3 Personal Property:

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“a) Liquid assets. No person owning assets easily convertible into cash, including but not limited to, bank deposits, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other marketable security, will be eligible for general assistance unless and until he or she uses these assets to meet his or her basic needs, and thereby exhausts them.”

Note the use of the words “easily convertible.” That does not apply to many life insurance policies.

Sun Spots had no luck with contacting the Department of Health and Human Services, and your town is very tiny, so she went to Lewiston’s Director of Social Services Sue Charron, who wrote that she was not sure to which order you were referring. But she did offer this:

“We do ask if a person has any life insurance policies. The reason is twofold. One is to determine if they have insurance to take care of their funeral needs, because the city does receive requests for funeral assistance.

“Two is to determine if there is any cash value in the policy, because a recipient would need to access the cash value or a portion of it to meet their basic needs. They wouldn’t necessarily have to cash in the policy, it would depend on the needs of the recipient.

“If a person is in an emergency situation and does not have immediate access to the cash value, that is taken into consideration when determining eligibility.

“General assistance is complicated and never black and white. Each case is determined on its unique situation.” 

So when you go to your town to ask for help, be sure and take the policy along so they can determine how it will fit into this equation.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: It was wonderful to see the article in the Sun Journal describing local programs to fight childhood hunger.

St. Mary’s Food Pantry also provides snacks for some school programs as well as the daily efforts to end hunger at home. We have received feedback that the snacks we provide aren’t always healthy and nutritious, but sugary and highly processed. Guilty.

Unfortunately, we give out what we receive in donations or are able to purchase (at a reduced rate) through the Good Shepherd Food-Bank, which is also giving out what they receive in donations.

We appreciate every donation we receive, but we are humbly asking that when your readers give to a food drive, at the school or at an event like Pack The Bus at Shaw’s, they give nutritious foods and snacks.

Peanut butter and tuna fish are popular foods high in protein. Nonsugary cereals, crackers and cheese, and raisins make great snacks.

And because food turns over so quickly at the pantry, we are able to take fruits and vegetables that we could not accept years ago. Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, apples, pears and other fruits make great snacks. And vegetables like potatoes and onions are all welcome donations if brought to the pantry or donated at Pack the Bus or other events.

It is wonderful to have an outlet like Sun Spots to thank and to inform readers. — Bettyann Sheats, St. Mary’s Food Pantry Advisory Committee

ANSWER: The other day at Walmart Sun Spots checked out behind a young mother who had no “real food,” other than milk, in her cart. All of it was processed and prepackaged single-serving meals, much of it sweet.

It was all she could do not to say something about good nutrition, but she reminded herself that this mother was probably brought up eating the same thing. Children live what they learn. We all love the food of our childhoods, and it takes a lot of effort to change those habits.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to sunspots@sunjournal.com.

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