Maine Gov. Wants Food Stamp Rules

Augusta, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s administration announced plans Wednesday to change how Maine distributes food stamps and require some recipients to work or lose their benefits.

Maine will no longer seek a federal waiver that has allowed jobless people to continue receiving benefits to buy food after three months, said John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The waiver is given to states with high unemployment rates or a lack of jobs.

Advocates say they fear the change will hurt low-income people still struggling in a tough economic environment. But the Republican governor says that Maine can fight poverty by trying to buy its way out of it — “which makes liberals feel good” but hasn’t worked — or by offering education and training to help residents become economically independent.

“If you hand someone money who hasn’t worked for it, nine times out of ten, it’s going to be spent unwisely,” he said in his weekly radio address. “But if you offer support and guidance to help someone get employed, the check they get from their hard work is apt to be spent more wisely.”

The department must go through a rule-making process and hold public hearings on the change, which is set to go into effect Oct. 1, when the federal waiver expires.

Recipients between ages 18 and 49 would have to work at least 20 hours a week, do volunteer work, or participate in a work-training program, according to the department. People living with dependents and those who are pregnant or are disabled would be exempt.

The state estimates that about $15 million a year is spent on benefits for the 12,000 people in Maine’s SNAP program — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — who could be affected by the requirement.

Maine is one of nearly three dozen states with a statewide waiver this fiscal year, according to the Food and Nutrition Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several others have waived the requirements for some residents in some parts of their states.