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Maine’s GOP Governor Slashes Food Assistance

Jenn Stanley

Maine's work requirements made thousands of residents lose their food stamp benefits before the federal requirement went into effect.

Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an outspoken opponent of public assistance, managed to remove thousands of residents from the state’s food stamp rolls over the past 15 months by way of his new work requirements.

The number of healthy, childless adults receiving food stamps fell from 13,589 to 1,206 between November 2014 and November 2015 due to LePage’s new policies.

The scenario in Maine could be mirrored nationally, as more than one million residents in 21 states will face losing food stamps if they don’t meet federal work requirements that began this month.

“Food has implications in every area. It affects your ability to work, it affects your ability to stay housed, it affects your ability to keep your children in school,” Christine Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners, told the Associated Press. “This took us in the other direction.”

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Though many advocates for the poor believe these requirements have had a disastrous result on Maine’s low-income and food-insecure population, the governor’s office points to the state’s declining unemployment rate as a sign that LePage’s program is working.

“Requiring able-bodied people to work to receive their benefits just makes common sense and sends the message to Maine’s hard-working taxpayers that their money is truly being use as a hand up, not a hand out,” Peter Steele, a spokesman for the governor, told the Associated Press.

LePage has claimed that 47 percent “of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work.” The state’s labor force participation rate stood at 64.1 percent in 2014, higher than the national average of 62.8 percent.

Increased work requirements aren’t the only obstacle LePage has put in place for those receiving public assistance. Roadblocks from his administration include mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients with felony convictions and ineligibility to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for childless households with assets worth more than $5,000.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent a letter to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that said the state was breaking the law because its application response times for SNAP benefits were too low and its data were insufficient.

Maine ranks last in response time out of 53 SNAP programs in the nation. In 2014, it ranked 36th, marking a drastic drop in efficiency for a state with one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation.

LePage has also pushed to roll back child labor laws that have been in place since the mid-1800s, as first reported by the Bangor Daily News. The Republican governor has long backed a proposal that would lower the legal working age to 12. Those children would work for $5.25 an hour under LePage’s 2013 proposal.

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