- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s Democratic-controlled House of Representatives backed a bill Wednesday to waive work requirements for some food stamp recipients, but the measure doesn’t appear to have enough support to survive a near certain veto from Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Since October, healthy adults without children have had to work at least 20 hours a week, volunteer 24 hours a month or participate in a work-training program to receive benefits after three months. The requirements were established after LePage decided to no longer seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which the state still qualified for and had used since 2008.

The Associated Press reported in March that more than 9,000 residents have been removed from the program since those requirements kicked in. It’s unclear how many of them became ineligible because they got jobs and how many were kicked off for failing to meet the requirements.

Democratic Rep. Scott Hamann’s bill would direct the administration to seek federal approval to waive the rules for people who live in parts of the state where unemployment remains high. The bill won initial approval with a 79-65 vote after a heated debate in the House and now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats noted that while Portland’s unemployment rate hovers around 4 percent, the jobless rate is double that in Washington County and other rural areas.

“Refusing to accept this federal waiver has stripped these rural Maine communities of a vital anti-poverty tool,” Hamann said.

LePage’s administration blasted Democrats for trying to roll back the requirement, which he says is essential to incentivize work.

“The Senate must listen to Mainers and oppose this out-of-touch legislation,” LePage said in a statement. “A vote for this bill is a vote to revert back to the days of abuse and misuse of benefits in a welfare system with no accountability.”

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