The adoption of this final rule effectuates many changes required by state statute and federal regulation. The adopted rule aligns Maine policy with various federal waivers and options. The adopted rule makes non-substantive changes to improve the readability and inclusivity of the manual and reduces the use of stigma inducing language.
Consistent with multiple extensions of SNAP Waiver 2055 received from Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), the Department proposed to extend the waiver of most interview requirements through December 31, 2022. Since the rule was proposed, an extension has been granted to the Department, to waive most interview requirements through March 31, 2023. The rule has been amended to reflect the new date of March 31, 2023. Changes to Sections 222-4(2)(A), 444-5(2)(B)(4)(a), and 666-9(1)(C)(1) are retroactive to January 1, 2022. Retroactive rulemaking is permissible under 22 M.R.S. Section 42(8) as the change affords this benefit to more residents of the State of Maine and does not adversely impact applicants, participants, beneficiaries, or providers.
Maine exercises an option for Broad Based Categorical Eligibility under 7 C.F.R. Section 273.2(j)(2) which has included a 185% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) test. This figure is not included in the figures updated by FNS each federal fiscal year per 7 C.F.R. Section 273.9(a)(4), it is updated as soon as the FPLs are published. The 2022 year's FPLs were published at https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines on January 19. See also, Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines, Federal Register 87:14 (January 21, 2022) p.3315, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2022-01-21/pdf/2022-01166.pdf. The Department incorporated these figures effective January 12, 2022. Further, the Department increased this income limit from 185% of the FPL to 200% as permitted under 7 C.F.R. Section 273.2(j)(2)(ii)(A) and required by 22 M.R.S. Section 3104(13) effective July 1, 2022. Retroactive rulemaking is permissible under 22 M.R.S. Section 42(8) as these changes afford this benefit to more residents of the State of Maine and do not adversely impact applicants, participants, beneficiaries, or providers. Changes to Section 444-8(2) and Section 999-3 Chart 4 make SNAP benefits and the related SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) services available to more Maine households.
The Department implemented various budgeting figures in Section 999-3 as required by 7 C.F.R. Section 273.9(d). It requires that SNAP income and asset limits, maximum and minimum allotments, standard deductions, maximum shelter deductions, homeless shelter deductions, standard utility allowances (SUAs) and income change reporting thresholds are updated each year, effective October 1. This year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) COLA Memos FY2022, issued August 9 and 16, 2022, provided more generous income limits, maximum and minimum allotments, standard deductions, maximum shelter deduction, homeless shelter deduction, asset limits, and income change reporting thresholds. Each state agency is charged with determining SUAs and having those approved by the USDA. The utility allowance values were calculated using The Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor, and were submitted to and approved by USDA. Retroactive rulemaking is permissible under 22 M.R.S. Section 42(8) as these changes afford this benefit to more residents of the State of Maine and do not adversely impact applicants, participants, beneficiaries, or providers. Changes to Section 999-3 are intended to make SNAP benefits and the related SNAP E&T services available to more Maine households and increase the benefit amounts for some.
The Department updated the open sections consistent with the recent change of terms "Food Supplement" and "Food Supplement Program" to "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" and by extension their associated abbreviations to "SNAP" or other substitutable terms. This update is consistent with the terminology used in federal law and regulation as well as signage and other materials seen throughout the state and nation. Further, P.L. 2021 c. 398 Part OO made this change throughout Maine's revised statutes. This change is reflected in all uses of the terms and abbreviations in sections included in this adopted rule (unless they refer only to a time prior to the statutory change). The "FS" is removed from all section numbers. Similarly, references to "coupons" are updated to "benefits" as coupons are no longer issued.
The Department effectuates the following changes to improve the readability of the manual and improve the ease of making references and citations within the manual. Where practical, phrases are converted to active voice. To the extent possible, text is rephrased to provide an objective set of rules rather than instructions to Department staff. Some text is moved within a section to consolidate information, reduce redundancies, or improve the flow. Some terms are eliminated for consistency. (E.g. the term "agency would be replaced with "Department: when referring to Maine's Department of Health and Human Services). Gender specific terms are converted to gender neutral terms in the interest of inclusivity. The enumeration of paragraphs, subparagraphs, and so on, and the representation of numbers are updated as part of JTPA, are eliminated or updated. Stigma including language has been updated. (E.g. "alcohol treatment centers" are changed to "centers for the treatment of Substance Use Disorders").
The Department has changed all references to "recertification form" to "renewal form" consistent with the renaming of this document in print and online.
The Department added consistency to the language related to the submission of applicants, renewals, and six-month-reports, and meeting interview requirements. These forms can, now, be submitted on paper, electronically, or telephonically. Further, interviews may be completed in person, by phone, or, in some cases, through Department established video conferencing sites. Language that referenced "showing up" for an interview or submitting a form in a specific medium is updated accordingly.
The adopted rule provides more clarify around questionable information (which would require verification) and unclear information (which sometimes triggers the need for an interview). Instances of "questionable" information sections in this rulemaking are replaced with language specifying "contradictory to information known to or received by the Department." The definition of "questionable information" in Section 999-1 is modified to use "contradictory to" rather than "inconsistent with" in the same context. It is necessary to retain the definition as some sections not being reviewed as part of this rulemaking use the term "questionable information". A definition of "unclear information" is added to Section 999-1.
The adopted rule clarifies Section 111-1(2) that a parent can be a separate household from their child(ren) for the duration of a court order granting a third party guardianship of the child(ren). This change reduces confusion for applicants, participants and Department staff as the current rule does not specify a timeframe.
The Department updated language in Section 111-6 related to job quit penalties to clarify that not all work registration exemptions apply to job quit. Further edits clarify the minimum job characteristics to remedy a job quit disqualification and removed any language that could be interpreted to apply the disqualification to the entire household. These changes intend to reduce confusion for applicants, participants and Department staff.
The Department clarifies Section 444-10 that disqualification for noncompliance with another means tested program are applied based on the policy in effect at the time of the infraction. Further, language is added to Section 555-3, consistent with 7 C.F.R. Section 273.11(j), articulating that SNAP benefits may not not be increased based on a decrease in other means tested benefits that results from noncompliance.
Per 7 C.F.R. Section 273.9(d)(6)(iii)(E), the Department updates Section 555-5(7)(B) to use standard utility allowances (SUA) for all households with qualifying expenses. Further, the Department will apply each SUA in full to any household paying a portion of the qualifying expenses. This standardization reduces confusion for applicants, participants, and Department staff, reduce the burden on many households, including those with self-employment, to provide documentation; and increase benefit amounts for many households.
In addition to the other modifications detailed in this document, the adopted rule updates Section 444-2, Self-employment, Migrant Farm Workers, and Contract Employees. Language is clarified and standardized to "largest income source anticipated for the 12 month periods" rather than the less specific and inconsistent terms "major source of support," "supplements," etc. Clarification is added that verification is not only for income, but for self-employment related assets and expenses as well. The allowable expense for child or adult care meals is updated consistent with 7 C.F.R. Section 273.11(b)(3)(i). Clarification is added that application of shelter expenses in the case of business use of the home is at the household's discretion. The method of determining business use of the home expense is clarified. Clarification is added related to when rental income treated as earned or unearned income. Although this clarification is redundant to information in Sections 555-2 and 555-3, the Department believes it warrants reiteration. The formulas for determining business use of the home expenses in rental situations are made more precise. Each of these changes add to the clarify of this section and streamline the process for applicants, participants and Department staff. Relatedly, a definition of "Roomer" is added to Section 999-1 to distinguish this situation from other rental income.
In addition to the other modifications to Section 444-8 detailed in this document, the Department removed references to the publication of the 130% and 100% Federal Poverty Level figures. These figures are not adopted upon publication in the Federal Register, but are adopted at the start of the Federal Fiscal Year consistent with their adoption by Food and Nutrition Services.
In addition to the other modifications to Section 555-4, Excluded Income, detailed in this document, the Department removed the reference to the SCSEP program being administered by the ABLE network. As the ABLE network no longer administers this program.
In addition to the other modifications detailed in this document, the Department updated Section 555-5, Deductions. A summary, introductory paragraph and a description of the reason for some standard deductions have been added. The exclusion of premiums paid for Office for Family Independence health policies from the excess medical deduction is eliminated consistent with 7 C.F.R. Section 273.9(d)(3). The paragraph on Dependent Care Deductions is significantly reworked to add clarity without making substantive changes. Clarification has been added as to what expenses related to service animals are deductible. When expenses related to a live-in attendant could be applied either as a medical or a dependent care expense, they will be counted as a dependent care expense as this application is to the recipients benefit. Verification requirements for Excess Medical Deductions are simplified consistent with 7 C.F.R. Section 273.2(f)(8)(i)(A). Each of these changes adds to the clarity of this section and streamline the process for applicants, participants, and Department staff.
The adopted rule updated language around reporting of unissued benefits to comport the timelines with those in 7 C.F.R. Section 273.17(a)(1). This change increased the amount of time participants have to notify the Department of issuance problems. Further, Section 777-4, Replacement of Benefits is simplified as follows: Reference to benefits being destroyed are removed as that language was specific to physical coupons and does not apply to electronic benefits; and separate processes related to a disaster declaration is eliminated as the disaster declaration constitutes the verification required in the general process.
Office: Office for Family Independence
Public hearing: -