Feeding Maine People Through SNAP

October 2, 2019

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides financial assistance to help low-income households purchase food. In Maine, nearly 164,000 people participate in SNAP, also known as Food Supplement, including children, working families, older Mainers, and individuals with disabilities.

As we announced on September 5, more than 44,000 of Maine's SNAP participants, or more than a quarter, would lose their food benefits under a Trump administration proposal to remove millions of Americans from the program. Governor Mills, Commissioner Lambrew and Maine's congressional delegation have all urged the Trump Administration to rescind this misguided proposal, which would essentially eliminate Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility from SNAP. Under Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility, states enroll eligible applicants in SNAP if they already qualify for other benefits for low-income people, primarily Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This allows states to tailor the program to their specific populations and to better coordinate SNAP with other public assistance programs.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services submitted formal comments opposing this rule change to the federal government last week, writing in part:

"There is a growing concern in Maine about food insecurity and the number of parents who cannot provide adequate food for their children. Finalizing this rule would exacerbate the issue. Maine has one of the highest food insecurity rates in New England. This has put a significant strain on Maine food banks, pantries, local churches and soup kitchens. Under this proposed rule, more individuals would seek to use these programs to help alleviate hunger, further burdening an already strained system. This will have an impact on access to food that will ultimately have an impact on their health and wellbeing."

While we continue our work to oppose this rule change, which has not yet taken effect, we are pleased that Maine was approved for a federal waiver that will allow more individuals who need food assistance to qualify for SNAP. To participate in SNAP, able-bodied participants with no children who are between the ages of 18 and 49 must meet a work requirement or volunteer to continue receiving benefits. But in many areas of Maine, the unemployment rate is high and few jobs are available, making it difficult for participants to meet the work requirement or find places to volunteer. Under this waiver, participants who live in these areas — more than 200 largely rural municipalities across the state — are exempted from the work requirement. We estimate that approximately 2,000 people will benefit from the waiver in these areas, allowing them to continue having access to nutritious food in the face of economic challenges.

With this approval, Maine joins 36 other states with partial or statewide waivers of this kind. An emergency rule allowing the change takes effect today, and will be effective through August 31, 2020.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services continues its work to ensure that only those eligible for SNAP receive benefits. The Department's Fraud and Investigation Recovery Unit investigates allegations of SNAP fraud.From January 1, 2019 to August 21, 2019, the unit established 3,012 overpayments totaling $2,260,277.

Some cases were presented for criminal prosecution. During this period, 8 cases were submitted to the Attorney General's Office, totaling $231,175 in alleged theft of benefits; 16 cases were submitted to local District Attorney's Offices, totaling $11,454.75 in alleged theft of benefits; and the unit assisted federal investigative agencies with 2 cases totaling $30,353 in alleged theft of benefits.

The Department is committed to ensuring the integrity of SNAP, and all public assistance programs, through means that are fair, effective, and robust.