Maine's Governor Wants to Take This Benefit Away From Thousands of People

June 27th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Maine's Gov. Paul LePage threatened to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for thousands of people in his state because of candy bars.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture denied his request to ban people from buying candy bars and soda with food stamps, and LePage is not pleased.

People who receive SNAP benefits in th U.S. get an average of $126 each month to pay for groceries (or seeds if recipients want to grow their own food). SNAP recipients cannot use their benefits to buy prepared foods, alcohol, cigarettes, soap, household supplies, or medicine.

Last year LePage proposed a series of public assistance changes that would have made it more difficult for people to qualify for government programs, according to the Bangor Daily News. This year LePage sent a proposal to the U.S Department of Agriculture to keep poor people with food stamps from buying candy and soda. The USDA rejected this proposal.

In a letter, LePage threatened to stop the food stamp program in Maine in response to the rejection, and if he follows through, 190,000 people would lose access to SNAP benefits, according to the USDA's March 2016 data on recipients.

If LePage pulls the state out, Maine would be the first state to ever leave the federal food stamp program, according to Vox.

Paul LePage

Karen Parker, the executive director of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program in Maine, told ATTN: that pulling out of the SNAP program would be disastrous for hungry people in the state. "It would have a tremendous impact negatively on the food insecure people in Maine," she said. "I would say that 30 to 40 percent of the people who come to us also receive SNAP benefits."

Lepage's letter to Vilsack.

In his letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, LePage called the department's denial of his request to ban junk food "snide" and said that tax payer money is being wasted on "Mars bars and Mountain Dew." He also accused the Obama administration of being influenced by grocery and "junk food" special interest groups.

Lepage's letter to Vilsack.

LePage said that Maine taxpayers are tired of watching their money "go down the drain" and that the federal government should "wake up and smell the energy drinks."

Lepage's letter to Vilsack.

"Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reform unilaterally or cease Maine's administration of the food stamp program altogether. You maintain such a broken program that I do not want my name attached to it. I suggest you start browsing the Maine classifieds for commercial real estate leases."

He ended the letter with a threat to stop Maine's administration of food stamp benefits if the federal government doesn't allow him to ban junk food. This would most likely end the program, because although the federal government funds SNAP, it does not administer the benefits, according to Vox.

However, in a statement to the Washington Post, the governor's press secretary Adrienne Bennett said:

"The governor did not threaten to end the program. He threatened to stop administering it from DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] so that the feds would be forced to administer it in Maine."

She claimed that if LePage pulled out of the program the federal government would take it over.

This claim is legally dubious, according to a spokesperson for the Agricultural Department. "We do not have the authority or funding to administer snap at the state level," spokesperson Matt Herrick told the Washington Post. "In real world terms, what that means is people lose benefits. People suffer."

In terms of nutrition, Parker from Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program in Maine said that she can only speak from her personal experience with hungry people in Maine, but she finds that people are generally appreciative of nutritious food and eager to eat it.

"When we offer people healthy food and healthy choices, right now we have a lot of donated food from local produce, people are thrilled to bring that home over other food," said Parker. "Clearly there is an appreciation for locally grown healthy food here."

Parker said that to make a judgment about the future of the SNAP because of candy bars and sodas is "dangerous."

"I think when people judge other people and they don't know what each circumstance is, it's a very dangerous place to go," said Parker. "Often people who are food insecure are trying to juggle other things. They have so many pressures in their life and when you judge people based on what you think is going on that's a dangerous thing."

RELATED: Who is Really on Food Stamps?