Proposed Rulemaking

SNAP Rule #224P - March 2022 Standard Utility Allowance Updates

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Concise Summary:

Each state agency is charged with determining standard utility allowances and having those approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each year, Maine proposes figures based on the best available data in July for implementation in October. The utility allowance values for Federal Fiscal Year 2022 were calculated to increase using The Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 240.778% for June 2021 published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor, and were submitted to and approved by the USDA. Between June and October 2021, the CPI increased another 11.88 percentage points. This increase is indicative of an additional $2 per month in phone expenses, an additional $14 per month in utility expenses for households without a heating or cooling expense, and an additional $42 per month in utility expenses for households with a heating or cooling expense. To accurately reflect the expense of Maine families, the Department has submitted and the USDA has approved updated standard utility allowances for the remainder of Federal Fiscal Year 2022. These same changes were incorporated into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Rules, in emergency rule making number 2022-031. This rulemaking proposes to make those changes permanent to ensure that SNAP benefits are issued appropriately and accurately taking into account the high utility expenses experienced by Maine residents as verified by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=puc-pressreleases&id=6112651&v=article088, and maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=puc-pressreleases&id=6040934&v=article088) and attested to by various media outlets (thedenverchannel.com/news/national/with-rising-heating-cost-more-people-are-expected-to-ask-for-assistance-with-bills-this-winter, pressherald.com/2021/11/09/mainers-to-face-double-digit-shock-in-electricity-supply-rates-next-year, and mainepublic.org/business-and-economy/2021-11-16/maine-utility-regulators-are-warning-electricity-customers-to-brace-for-a-big-rate-hike).

Comment deadline past Comment Deadline: April 19, 2022 | Posted: March 16, 2022

HOPE Rule #101 - Internet Access, Updates to Eligible Careers and Degree Programs, Increased Program Participant Cap, and Additional Updates

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The original HOPE rules did not anticipate the need to provide Internet access when establishing the support service funding cap on technology supports. In the interest of public health, Maine's institutions of higher learning suspended their in-person activities during the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to provide education and career training programs online. Some of Maines most vulnerable people did not have sustained access to Internet connections necessary to avail themselves of those programs. This rule change would allow funding of Internet access for HOPE participants when other cost-effective Internet options are not feasible. Furthermore, the Department regularly reviews policies for clarity, and applicability. P.L. 2021 Ch. 149 amended 22 M.R.S. 3790-A(2)(C) so that the reference to acceptable target jobs more closely matches the language used by the Maine Department of Labor, and relaxed the criteria for acceptable post-secondary degree programs. This rule change proposes to bring the manual in compliance with those changes. These changes include the addition of definitions of "Adequate Job Outlook," Career Pathway, Substantial Improvement in Earnings and Benefits, and Universally Recognized and Accepted; the removal of the term Average Job Outlook; and related modifications to eligibility and verification criteria. Although Subsection 1 of 22 M.R.S. 3790-A was not amended, the Department has decided to move forward with rule making as it has determined that the passage of this amendment is an implied repeal of the inconsistent language contained there. [T]he legislature cannot be supposed to have intended that there should be two distinct enactments embracing the same subject matter in force at the same time, and that the new statute, being the most recent expression of the legislative will, must be deemed a substitute for previous enactments, and the only one which is to be regarded as having the force of law. State v. Taplin, 247 A.2d 919, 921-22 (Me. 1968). These changes would be effective Monday, October 18, 2021, the effective date of the legislation. Retroactive rulemaking is permissible under 22 M.R.S. 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. P.L. 2021 Ch. 398 Part BBB amended 22 M.R.S. 3790-A to expand the number of individuals who may be enrolled in the HOPE program from 500 to 800. This rule change proposes to bring the manual in compliance with that change effective Thursday, July 1, 2021. Retroactive rulemaking is permissible under 22 M.R.S. 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. The following changes would not be implemented retroactively: In Section 1, Definitions, a number of terms would be added or would have their definitions updated. The definition of Application would be updated to allow for electronically signed submissions. This change would improve access especially at times that in-person contact is discouraged for health reasons. A definition of Credential would be added to clarify this term as distinct from High-Value Credential. The definition of Matriculation would be simplified and standardized. This change is necessitated by the vast spectrum of definitions of Matriculation used by various institutions, and the fact that some do not use the term at all. It would be further amended to allow for test preparation courses when a HOPE participant has graduated from their primary Training or Education program but is using such a course to prepare for an exam necessary to achieve the related credential. A definition of Outstanding Tuition and Fees would be added to help clarify what bills can and cannot be paid by HOPE supports. A definition of Specified Relative would be added for consistency with other TANF funded OFI programs. A definition of Stackable Credential would be added to facilitate a lifelong education, training, and employment program that leads to improved employability or increased earnings potential in a specific job sector. The definition of Working Age would be simplified to avoid a potential conflict should the CWRI change its definition in the future. In Section 3, Eligibility, the following clarifications are proposed. Changes are proposed to Subsection A(6), (8), and (10) to provide more clarity and specificity to the eligibility criteria for Participants, Institutions, and Programs. A list of TANF programs that do not include cash payments would be added to A(6). A(8) would be modified to clarify that the individual must have aptitude for the career not just the training or education program. The standards of accreditation were added to A(10)(a)(i). In addition to modifications related to P.L. 2021 Ch. 149, A(10)(b) was amended to expand the criteria for cost effectiveness of a training or education program. Amendments to Subsection B(2) are proposed to clarify the treatment or exclusion of certain income types. In Section 4, Services, the following amendments are proposed. Subsection (B)(1)(a) would be amended to clarify that the Outstanding Tuition and Fees support does not apply to student loan payments or prior payments made to payment plans entered into before HOPE enrollment. The mileage reimbursement rate in Subsection B(3) would be increased from 44 to 45 cents per mile consistent with the MSEA rate at https://www.maine.gov/osc/travel/mileage-other-info and the rate used by other OFI supports such as the Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment (ASPIRE), Food Supplement Employment and Training (FSET) and Transitional Transportation programs. Subsections (B)(3) and (7) would be amended to specify that these supports are available only for vehicles being operated in accordance with Maine law. Subsection (B)(5) would be amended to clarify that Technology and Software supports are only considered necessary if the Participant does not have sustained access to Technology and Software at their disposal. Subsection B(6) would be added to allow funding of Internet access for HOPE participants with the same conditions. Section 7, Policies and Procedures, has the following proposed modifications. Subsection B(1) would be amended to allow for electronically signed submissions. Subsection B(1) would be amended to clarify that applicants can have their denial reconsidered if they provide verifications within the month of denial or the month following. Finally, Subsection (B)(1) would be amended to allow the same timeframe for waitlisted applicants to be reconsidered. These changes would provide improved access. Subsections C and D would be amended to clarify the end date of eligibility for supports. Subsection C(2) would be amended to clarify that a change to an eligibility factor expected to last at least 30 days or a change to HOPE funded services expected to last at least 14 days needs to be reported. Subsection D would be corrected to reflect the location of the caps for Supports as Section 4(B). Subsection D(3) would be amended to clarify the timeframe during which Participants can request reimbursements. This change would reduce the administrative burden on Participants and the Department. Subsection E would be amended to reflect the clarifications made to Section 3(A)(6), (8), and (10) detailed above including detailing the acceptable verifications for the clarified eligibility criteria. Subsection E(1)(g) would be amended for greater consistency with the terminology and requirements in Section 3(A)(9). Subsection E(1)(i)(v) would be further amended to allow other documentation similar to those specified as evidence of acceptability of an online program. Other proposed changes are part of a standardization of practice across all OFI rules. Enumeration and lettering of subsections, paragraphs, etc. would be updated as part of a general effort to make these systems consistent throughout OFI rules and as necessary to accommodate the addition and deletion of material. References to Maine law or regulations would be reformatted for standardization within the document and consistency with the conventions detailed in Uniform Maine Citations by Michael D. Seitzinger, Charles K Leadbetter, and Sara T.S. Wolff. (https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/uniform-maine-citations/). References to various website URLs would be updated to reflect instances where the owner of the information changed the URL. Some references to other parts of this manual would be corrected for clarity. Proposed changes include using gender inclusive pronouns. Other grammatical and typographical errors would be corrected. Redundant terms would be removed. References to Caretaker Relative would be changed to Specified Relative for consistency with other TANF funded Office for Family Independence (OFI) programs.

Comment deadline past Comment Deadline: January 18, 2022 | Posted: December 16, 2021

SNAP Rule #212P - 2021 Omnibus Rule Change

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This rule change proposes to implement many changes required by state statute or federal regulation. It proposes to align Maine policy with various federal waivers and options. It proposes to make non-substantive changes to improve the readability and inclusivity of the manual, reduce the use of stigma inducing language, and update the names of programs such as WIOA and TANF. It proposes to correct various citations. The Department proposes to change the terms "Food Supplement" and Food Supplement Program to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and, by extension, their associated abbreviations to SNAP. This change is consistent with the terminology used in federal law and regulation as well as signage and other materials seen throughout the state and nation. Furthermore, P.L. 2021 c. 398 Part OO made this change throughout Maine's revised statutes. This change would be reflected in the name of the chapter itself and all uses of the terms and abbreviations in sections included in this rulemaking (unless they refer only to a time prior to the statutory change). The FS would be removed from all section numbers. The Department proposes to use person first language wherever feasible and to replace terms intended to convey the same meaning with Substance Use Disorder. These changes are being proposed consistent with P.L. 2017 c. 407 Part B, P.L. 2021 c. 348, and generally accepted best practices. There are occasional exceptions to this effort where it was determined best to keep the language consistent with the relevant federal statute. The Department proposes to convert some phrases to active voice and simplify the representation of numbers as part of an ongoing, office-wide effort at standardization and clarity. The Department proposes to add clarity to Section 111-1 related to standards and process for determining separate household status. This rule change proposes to align the chapter with the approved waiver submitted under the requirements of 22 M.R.S. 3104 (17) (as amended by P.L. 2019, c. 492, 1). This waiver allows residents of state or county correctional facilities to submit an application for SNAP up to 30 days prior to release, and for the filing date of the application to be the date of release. The Department proposes to remove references to an application needing to be dated. This change aligns the chapter with 7 C.F.R. 273.2(c)(1)(iii). The Department proposes to amend the chapter to eliminate disqualifications based on non-compliance with child support orders. This policy was in place as part of a state option authorized under 7 C.F.R. 273.11(q). The Department is choosing to no longer exercise that option. This change would be effective December 1, 2021. Retroactive rulemaking is permissible under 22 M.R.S. 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. The Department proposes to align the disqualification periods for Quality Control noncompliance with those found in 7 C.F.R. 273.2(d)(2). The Department proposes to clarify, in Section 222-5, that a reasonable opportunity to resolve discrepancies is 10 days. The Department proposes to amend the chapter to eliminate the asset limit for all households effective January 1, 2022. This change is required by P.L. 2021 c. 115 and would improve access for residents with low income. The Department proposes to remove language from Section 333-1 excluding the assets of ineligible students, non-citizens, alien sponsors as it is redundant to language in 444-4. The Department proposes a number of changes to the sections on assets. This rule change would update the asset and income lists to reflect new technologies such as non-fungible assets and crypto-currency. It further proposes to amend the language related to assets and income excluded by federal statute to reflect the fact that new statutes may be passed excluding certain resources not on the existing list. These resources are often of a temporary nature, such as those created through various legislation associated with COVID-19. To add and remove them from the chapter each time there is a federal law change would be an unnecessary administrative burden and duplicative of action already taken by Congress. Additionally, the acceptable verifications of a good faith effort to sell real property would be updated to conform with 7 C.F.R. 273.8(e)(8). The Department proposes to align the look back period for certain felonies with the one required by 7 C.F.R. 273.11(s)(3). The Department proposes to limit comparable disqualifications related to disqualifications from other means tested programs to instances where the individual has been found by a court or administrative hearing to have committed an intentional program violation (IPV) or has signed an IPV waiver. Maine is one of only 13 U.S. states or territories to apply comparable sanctions for non-compliance with other programs requirements. This change would align Maine with the majority of other SNAP agencies. This policy was in place as part of a state option authorized under 7 C.F.R. 273.11(k). Under that same authority, the Department is choosing to less fully exercise that option. The Department proposes to amend the work requirement for post-secondary students to allow for weekly hours to be averaged over the month. This change would align this requirement with other work requirements in the chapter while remaining consistent with 7 C.F.R. 273.5(b)(5). A more detailed description of the Resource Guide for Families would be added to Section 444-5. The Department proposes to eliminate the $0 benefit starting March 1, 2022 and implemented over a 12-month period. Historically, households that qualified for this benefit were considered eligible for the USDA National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program. That has not been the case since Food and Nutrition Service provided clarifying guidance in their memo dated October 25, 2011. As such, there is no appreciable benefit for households to be certified for a $0 benefit. The States option to deny or authorize a $0 benefit for these households is articulated at 7 C.F.R. 273.10(e)(2)(iii). The Department proposes to update Section 555-6 to more clearly and accurately describe the budgeting process. Accordingly, it further proposes to eliminate the budgeting worksheet in Section 555-7 that is redundant to the budgeting process outlined in 555-6 without adding clarity. The Department proposes to clarify that if there is an interruption in or delay of benefits as a result of household action or inaction, benefits for the month the situation is resolved will be prorated to the date of compliance. This change is required as part of Maines reinstatement waiver approved August 16, 2021 and guidance provided in Food and Nutrition Services memo index number 88-04. The Department proposes to clean up language in Section 666-6 that was applicable prior to the statewide conversion to simplified reporting. This language is no longer relevant and could reduce the clarity of the current requirements. The Department proposes to clarify the reporting requirement related to household income exceeding 130% of the federal poverty level. This change is necessary to align the chapter with the requirements at 7 C.F.R. 273.12(a)(5)(v). The Department proposes to clarify the verification requirements at annual eligibility review. This change is necessary to align the chapter with the requirements at 7 C.F.R. 273.2(f)(8). They will improve access for households and reduce the administrative burden for the Department. The Department proposes to delay the changes to the expungement deadline adopted as part of Food Supplement Rule Making #218A earlier this year from September 1, 2021 to September 1, 2022. This change is necessary to comply with changes to 7 C.F.R. Part 274 detailed in the Federal Register Vol. 86 No. 143. These changes at the state and federal level are necessary as the national EBT vendor could not make the technology changes necessary to implement the change prior to the original deadline while, at the same time, making the changes necessary to support the various COVID-19 related initiatives. The Department proposes to add a definition of public institution to add clarity to the application process in certain circumstances. The Department proposes to implement various budgeting figures as required by 7 C.F.R. 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 be updated each year, effective October 1. This year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) COLA Memo FY2021 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 standard utility allowances and having those approved by USDA. The utility allowance values were calculated to increase 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. These updates were made in Food Supplement Emergency Rulemaking #222E. This rulemaking would allow these changes to endure beyond December 30, 2021.

Comment deadline past Comment Deadline: November 29, 2021 | Posted: October 27, 2021

TANF Rule #117P - FFY 2022 COLA, Application Process Updates, and Post TANF Services Budgeting Updates.

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This rule is promulgated to comply with Maine statute 22 M.R.S. 3769-C(1)(D), which requires the Department to increase the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) maximum benefit on an annual basis by the amount of the cost of living allowance as determined by the Social Security Administration. The statute also requires the Department to make a related increase to the standard of need, provided the funds are available. The Department proposes to update the introductory text to simplify language, pertaining to the receipt of assistance that is counted toward the 60-month lifetime limit. Additionally, changes are being proposed to disentangle the TANF and MaineCare application processes. The TANF manual specifies that all applications for TANF benefits are also to be treated as an application for MaineCare. 22 M.R.S. 3790(3-A) as amended by H.P. 1261 - L.D. 1774 6 newly requires the Department of Health and Human Services to accept referrals from an educational institution or program that is part of the University of Maine System; the Maine Community College System; Jobs for Maine's Graduates; an adult education program; or the career centers as an application for the Parents as Scholars Program with limited conditions. This newly required process and the current TANF manual conflict with Maines Medicaid State Plan. As such, reference to treating the Public Assistance application as a MaineCare application would be removed from this chapter. The requirement for Applicants and Participants to appear in-person for interviews and orientation meetings creates an unnecessary burden for them, and an administrative burden for the Department and the Departments contractors. While these in-person meetings may expedite the application process for those able to visit an office in-person, the requirement for most slows or reduces access. Furthermore, at times of community transmission of illnesses or diseases such as Corona virus or Influenza, or hazardous traveling conditions due to weather, these in-person requirements can pose a risk to the health of Applicants, Participants and staff. These in-person interactions have not been proven to increase program integrity. As such, these requirements were recently reduced in rules TANFC19E, and TANF114A. Recognizing the benefits of these adjustments, and not having experienced a demonstrable detriment, the Department proposes to remove all remaining in-person requirements from the manual. To strengthen program integrity and reduce confusion, the Department proposes to add language to Chapter V(A) clarifying those children who are eligible for Transitional Child Care (TCC), and the reporting requirements for child care providers receiving TCC payments. The Department also proposes clarifying language regarding TCC overpayment responsibility and recovery procedures. A small business impact statement regarding this change can be obtained by contacting the agency person listed below. Furthermore, the mileage reimbursement rate for Transitional Transportation Participants would be updated to align with the MSEA rate at https://www.maine.gov/osc/travel/mileage-other-info and the rate used by other OFI supports such as the Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment (ASPIRE), Food Supplement Employment and Training (FSET), and Higher Opportunity for Pathways to Employment (HOPE) programs. Similarly, in compliance with 22 M.R.S. 3762(8)(C), the Chart of Parent Fees and Subsidy Payments would be updated based on Federal Poverty Level (FPL) figures published in the Annual Update of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Poverty Guidelines, 86 Fed. Reg. 7,732 (February 1, 2021) https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/02/01/2021-01969/annual-update-of-the-hhs-poverty-guidelines. The Department is proposing to adopt this provision with a retroactive application to February 1, 2021. Retroactive rulemaking is authorized by the Legislature in accordance with 22 M.R.S. 42(8) because this rule provides a benefit to recipients or beneficiaries and does not have an adverse financial effect on either providers or beneficiaries or recipients. A clarification of good cause as it pertains to cooperation with child support requirements is proposed to be added to Chapter I(D)(2)(iii). The Department proposes to update the text describing the legal foundation for the Alternative Aid program to reflect the current authority and requirement to administer said program. The Department proposes to update or add various cross references for clarity. The Department proposes to update the Table of Contents as a result of all proposed changes. Finally, various changes are being proposed to formatting, punctuation, and word choice, that will not alter the meaning of the text, but will enhance readability and inclusivity.

Comment deadline past Comment Deadline: August 23, 2021 | Posted: July 21, 2021

Food Supplement Rule #220P - ABAWD FFY 2022

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Concise Summary:

7 CFR 273.24 provides that no individual shall be eligible to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a member of any household if the individual received program benefits for more than 3 months during any 3-year period in which the individual was subject to but did not comply with the ABAWD work requirement. 7 C.F.R. 273.24(f) provides that, upon the request of the State agency, the Secretary may waive the applicability of the 3-month ABAWD time limit for any group of individuals in the State if the Secretary makes a determination that the geographic area in which the individuals reside has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent, or does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the individuals. This rule making proposes to implement ABAWD geographic state-wide waiver 2190025 approved April 28, 2021 pursuant to 7 C.F.R. 273.24(f)(2) and Section 6(o) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. This waiver excludes all Maine residents from ABAWD requirements, for the period October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022. Reference to past exemptions under expired authority would be removed. The Department pursued and Food and Nutrition Services approved the waiver based on the Department of Labor Trigger Notice No. 2020-38, effective October 4, 2020, showing that, state-wide, Maine qualified for extended unemployment benefits. This rule change will enhance nutritional stability and consistency for thousands of Maine households at a time of financial and health uncertainty.

Comment deadline past Comment Deadline: June 25, 2021 | Posted: May 26, 2021