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Could Maine's Food Stamp Solution Be Used Nationwide?

Could Maine's Food Stamp Solution Be Used Nationwide?
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 28 December 2015 12:37 PM

Food stamp rolls in Maine have plummeted in a year in what conservatives are proclaiming is a welfare reform victory that could be an example for the nation.

According to the Washington Examiner, the number of healthy adults without dependents who get food stamps fell by more than 90 percent, from 13,589 last year to 1,206 through mid-November.

In the fall of 2014, conservative Maine Gov. Paul LePage – who has run on a promise of welfare reform – started new work rules for food-stamp recipients that mandated any adult without children and who's able to work must do so at least part time, participate in job-training programs or volunteer to receive food stamp benefits.

"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," Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of Maine's Department of Health and Human Services, tells the Examiner.

Though Maine can't tell if most former beneficiaries got jobs or just decided it wasn't worth meeting the requirements for food stamps, Mayhew tells the Examiner the program's point was to promote self-sufficiency – and to change the culture of the department and state.

GOP lawmakers worry the loosening of work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that came with President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus bill changed the program into one offering income support rather than addressing malnutrition and poverty, the Examiner notes.

According to the Examiner, the program has 45 million beneficiaries, a number that hasn't dropped even though unemployment has.

It's still a question if the reforms have increased hunger.

"What we have seen is a definite increase in the number of people being served" through food pantries operated by Catholic Charities, representative Judy Katzel tells the Examiner, adding demand has grown steadily every year.

But Maine's conservative government hails the reforms as a success.

"When you speak to someone whose life has been transformed through employment, it is so incredibly powerful to understand that getting a cash benefit or a handout is not going to change, ultimately, their future," Mayhew said.

Maine will next seek permission from the federal government to ban food stamps for buying candy or sugary soft drinks, and wants to put photo IDs on food stamp cards, the Examiner reports.

"The public is absolutely angry and frustrated by the abuse that they've seen in the system," Mayhew tells the Examiner.

Matthew Gagnon, head of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, tells the Examiner the changes reflect measures the federal government passed in 1996 reforms.

"Now that they're going to those simple reforms that were done 20 years ago, it's really important to note how effective they've been, and how little we had to innovate in order to have an effect on the welfare culture here," he said.

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Food stamp rolls in Maine have plummeted in a year in what conservatives are proclaiming is a welfare reform victory that could be an example for the nation.
maine, food stamp, welfare, reform, help, us
Monday, 28 December 2015 12:37 PM
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