Federal Government Threatens Sanctions Against Maine If It Does Not Improve Food Stamp Program

| by Robert Fowler
Maine Gov. Paul LePage.Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

Maine lawmakers are touting their efforts to curb the number of food stamp recipients, stating they have set a precedent for trimming down social services. Meanwhile, the federal government is threatening to slap sanctions on the state for a poor performance of processing food stamp requests.

Under the mandate of Republican Gov. Paul Lepage to reduce the number of Maine residents using state-funded welfare, Maine lawmakers have been taking steep measures to cut eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, according to the Washington Examiner.

In the fall of 2014, Maine instituted new rules stipulating that healthy adults without children must either attain at least part-time work, receive job training or perform volunteer work to receive SNAP benefits.

As of December 2015, the number of healthy adults without children receiving SNAP benefits dropped from 13,589 to 1,206, a 90 percent reduction, according to the Washington Examiner.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew has boasted of her department’s efforts to cut residents receiving government assistance.

“We have to make sure that our focus is on food stamps and other welfare programs being a last resort, not a way of life, and that we’re promoting employment,” Mayhew said.

According to Catholic Charities of Maine representative Judy Katzel, the decrease in food stamps recipients has resulted in an increase in people using food pantries that provide assistance for the hungry.

Maine lawmakers are now seeking federal permission to ban the use of food stamps to buy sodas or candy, as well as requiring a photo ID on SNAP cards. The USDA deems photos on SNAP benefits cards a violation of civil rights, notes the Bangor Daily News.

While Maine’s Republican lawmakers have said their handling of the SNAP program is a success, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent a letter to Maine’s DHHS on Dec. 7, warning that the state may face penalties for its handling of government assistance, according to Bangor Daily News.

The USDA alleges that Maine’s DHHS is failing to meet federal criteria for processing applications for SNAP benefits. In 2014, Maine was ranked 36 out of the 53 state agencies within the U.S. in processing food stamp applications in a timely manner. In just a year’s time, the state has dropped to the bottom of the list.

“The State’s chronically poor performance in timeliness is in direct conflict with the application processing statutory and regulatory provisions meant to protect low-income household's right to receive nutrition assistance benefits in a timely manner,” stated the USDA’s letter.

The federal government has made it clear that if Maine’s DHHS does not improve the functionality of its SNAP program, then the state will lose federal administrative funding.

Sources: Bangor Daily News, Washington Examiner / Photo credit: Matt Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons