Opinion

Conservative success: How one state got people off food stamps and back to work

Maine residents have seen a sharp decline in food stamp recipients thanks to Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s work-for-benefits policy that is stopping opportunists from abusing the program – and inspiring self-reliance.

LePage introduced the new work requirements late last year and they’ve been liberating people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ever since.

Maine gov article

The new policy requires able-bodied adults with no dependents to work part-time, enroll in a vocational program or volunteer for a minimum of 24 hours per month to receive SNAP benefits for a period longer than three months.

Much to the chagrin of many in the media who bothered to notice – the program has worked like a charm.

The Associated Press reported that LePage’s success even exceeded his own administration’s expectations, with the number of SNAP recipients dropping from about 12,000 adults in January, down to 2,680 by the end of March.

Even in a state as small as Maine that number is startling.

Naturally, the critics carp. They argue, for instance, that the program unfairly targets individuals in rural areas where jobs are scarce.

“Northern Washington County really has never come out of the recession, so there aren’t economic opportunities that there might be in other parts of the state,” said Barbara Chatterton, case manager at the Down East Aids Network in Machias, according to the Associated Press.

To help those who say it’s impossible to find jobs, Democrat Rep. Scott Hamann introduced a bill that would direct the governor to seek a federal waiver for certain counties – similar to a larger federal waiver LePage had previously rejected.

According to Pew Charitable Trusts, Maine and New Mexico were the only two states eligible for the federal waiver in 2014 who planned to implement work requirements.

The U.S. Republican House has been pushing for stricter eligibility guidelines for food stamps and a handful of states including Georgia, Kentucky, and California are reported to begin working with federal grants to implement work requirements.

LePage, however, cut out the feds altogether.

Proponents of LePage’s program say Hamann’s bill has little chance of passing, and point to the success of having people work for benefits.

“It you’re on these programs it means you are living in poverty and so the more that we can help incentivize people on that pathway to employment and self-sufficiency the better off they’re going to be,” said Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

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