Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine residents to work for food stamps, governor says

People considered able-bodied must work a minimum 20 hours a week or lose benefits, governor says

Maine's Republican governor on Wednesday launched a push to make more “able-bodied” people work for their food stamps.

“People who are in need deserve a hand up, but we should not be giving able-bodied individuals a handout,’’ said Gov. Paul R. LePage.

LePage will reportedly stop seeking a federal waiver — issued in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession — allowing some food stamp recipients to bypass requirements that they work or volunteer, according to local news channel WCSH.

About 12,000 of the state’s residents receiving $15 million annually in food stamps are considered to be able-bodied by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which administers the aid. That means that they are between the ages of 18 and 49, have no dependents and are not pregnant or disabled.

In the next three months, those who are deemed able-bodied must work or volunteer with a community organization for 20 hours a week or lose their aid. 

One in seven Americans receive food stamps. Some have called movements to make people work for food stamps – and a recent congressional bid to cut the program by $800 million – a war on America’s poor. But for LePage, it’s about uplifting a developing post-recession underclass.

“We must continue to do all that we can to eliminate generational poverty and get people back to work,” LePage said. “We must protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient.”

Over the past six months, Maine's DHHS has worked with the state’s Labor Department to help families receiving food stamps and other assistance get on a “pathway to employment,” the DHHS said in a news release. The effort connects people with employment centers and performs vocational assessments.

“We are committed to helping people use these resources, as well as providing training, to get people back to work as quickly as possible,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Maine’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in June, down from 6.7 a year before, according to the state’s Labor Department. 

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