Food Stamp Numbers Drop In Maine As The Economy Improves

As the economy continues to improve, states are stripping food stamp benefits from a million childless, able-bodied adults ages 19 to 49.

The question is: should states continue giving food stamps to healthy adults longer than the law's time limit? Many states are saying no.

Last year, the administration of Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage (R), decided to reinstate a three-month limit (out of every three-year period) on food stamps for a group called ABAWDS--able-bodied adults without minor dependents. This is unless they work 20 hours per week, take state job-training courses or volunteer around six hours per week.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of health and human services in Maine said, “You’ve got to incentivize employment, create goals and create time limits on these welfare programs." In Maine, the number of ABAWDS receiving food stamps has declined from 12,000 to 2,530--since the rule was imposed. The time limit was written under Bill Clinton in a 1996 federal welfare law. Yet, during the recession, many states took advantage of a provision that let them waive it while unemployment is persistently above average. That meant that poor adults could still receive benefits regardless of their work status.

In 2015, Maine was one of only eight states that qualified to use waivers but decided to only use them in parts of the state if at all. According to the Agriculture Department, 23 states will no longer qualify for statewide waivers in the 2016 fiscal year.

Ed Bolen, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said, “It means life gets tougher for those childless adults who face barriers already getting back into work."

Recently, the Agriculture Department announced that it had provided $200 million to 10 states for pilot programs to help people find jobs and take them off of food stamps. Of the measure, Ellen Vollinger, the legal and food stamp director for the Food Research and Action Center said “If the job situation in the area is a really a tough situation, this is an incredibly harsh provision. There’s going to be harm, and it’s going to show up in greater hunger, probably in greater instances of health problems and could show up in greater instances of homelessness.”

On the other hand, it saves the government money when they cut back on these types of "safety net" programs as the unemployment rate gets lower and the economy improves.

Photo: Wired, Politifact

The rule only affects those who are able-bodied and childless.

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