The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has announced that the state has fewer than 200,000 recipients enrolled in its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the first time since February 2009.
Enrollment in the state’s food stamp program has decreased to 199,157, a 22-percent decline from a high of 255,663 recipients in February, 2012.
“This is an important milestone for Maine’s economy and safety net,” DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement. “People on food stamps are living in poverty, and more food stamps does not equal less poverty. This administration is focused on incentivizing employment rather than trapping people in generational poverty and welfare dependency.”
“We need a workforce that is ready and willing to work if we are to attract and retain employers in this state,” Mayhew added. “Today, there are employers around the state who cannot find applicants for their jobs. Doling out assistance with no focus on employment is destructive to individual productivity and detrimental to our efforts to improve Maine’s economy and future. Today, Mainers who support commonsense welfare reform can rest assured that Governor LePage’s efforts are paying off.”
LePage’s administration re-implemented a work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents enrolled in the program.
According to Maine’s DHHS, “[t]he rule required simply that those adults work for 20 hours per week, volunteer for about one hour per day, or attend a class in order to maintain food stamps beyond three months.”
Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, said, “Work requirements serve to ensure that assistance is going to those most in need.”
“They act as a gatekeeper,” Sheffield said. “Welfare is available to those who truly need it, but people are directed first towards work. Able-bodied adults should be required to work, prepare for work, or look for work in exchange for receiving assistance. Maine is a strong example of promoting work and reciprocal obligation.”
Some were critical of the news.
Chris Hastedt, a policy director with Maine Equal Justice Partners, told Maine’s WCSH, “I hear language that says this is a good thing because it is forcing people to work.”
“People don’t need to be forced to work. People need to be helped to find a job,” Hastedt said.