October 13, 2015
Maine Food Stamp Enrollment Drops Below 200,000 for First Time Since 200979-month low fueled by higher employment, welfare reforms
79-month low fueled by higher employment, welfare reforms
AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Tuesday that for the first time since February 2009, the number of Mainers enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has dropped below 200,000.
Figures from DHHS's Office for Family Independence (OFI) show that in September 2015, SNAP, or food stamps, enrollment dropped to 199,157, down from 200,896 in August. The September figure is down 22 percent from a high of 255,663 in February 2012. Maine food stamp enrollment in February 2009 was 198,841.
"This is an important milestone for Maine's economy and safety net," added DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. "People on food stamps are living in poverty, and more food stamps does not equal less poverty. This administration is focused on incentivizing employment rather than trapping people in generational poverty and welfare dependency."
According to data from the Federal Nutrition Service (FNS), Maine ranked first in the nation for its reduction in food stamp dependency in 2014. Maine's unemployment rate has dropped from a recession-high 8.3 percent in July 2009 to 4.5 percent in August 2015, falling a full percentage point since December 2014 alone. Maine's employment-to-population ratio remains above the national average and its unemployment rate is well below the national average.
In addition to an increase in employment, the LePage Administration re-implemented the federal work requirement for able-bodied, 18-49 year old adults without dependents on food stamps, reducing dependency among that group from 15,500 to 1,800 in just 18 months. The rule required simply that those adults work for 20 hours per week, volunteer for about one hour per day, or attend a class in order to maintain food stamps beyond three months.
The number of Mainers on food stamps in January 2005 was just 155,492. Nationally, food stamp benefit spending has increased [ http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/pd/SNAPsummary.pdf ] from $15.5 billion in 2001 to $70 billion in 2014. Even as Maine's food stamp dependency has plummeted in recent months, spending has remained stagnant nationally [ http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/pd/34SNAPmonthly.pdf ], reaching $5.7 billion both in January 2014 and in June 2015.
"We need a workforce that is ready and willing to work if we are to attract and retain employers in this state," added Commissioner Mayhew. "Today, there are employers around the state who cannot find applicants for their jobs. Doling out assistance with no focus on employment is destructive to individual productivity and detrimental to our efforts to improve Maine's economy and future. Today, Mainers who support commonsense welfare reform can rest assured that Governor LePage's efforts are paying off."