Augusta, Maine, has seen a significant decrease in the number of residents receiving food stamp benefits.
In October, Maine initiated a mandatory requirement that able-bodied residents without children either work at least 20 hours per week, volunteer or participate in a work-training program for a certain number of hours in order to keep their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, as reported by the Portland Press Herald.
Residents were given three months to participate before losing their benefits. The requirement was enacted in order to encourage people to become self-sufficient.
“According to Department of Health and Human Services data, 9,478 able-bodied adults without dependents received SNAP benefits on Dec. 1,” WMTW reports. “That number dropped to 2,530 on April 1.”
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Lincoln County, Maine, saw the largest decrease, with the number of people receiving SNAP benefits dropping from 174 to 34.
Some residents argue that the drop could be attributed to lack of participation because people simply cannot physically get to an actual location to work or volunteer.
United Way employee Barb Wentworth asked: “Can they get there? Is the transportation an issue? Is it close by to home that they could walk? Certainly, if someone can work at something in their own town, that’s the ideal, but often times that’s not the case.”
“The experience I’ve had talking to a lot of nonprofits in the state [that] are highly motivated to try to help this population is that they just don’t have the capacity to handle as many volunteers [who] need a placement under this new policy,” Maine Equal Justice Partners employee Christine Hastedt said.
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However, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew argues that not all opportunities require a person to physically appear. “There are programs throughout the state that could probably benefit in one way or the other without necessarily the person having to be physically present,” she said.
Exceptions to the work requirement include people living with dependents and those who are pregnant or disabled.