- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Maine has used work requirements to remove thousands of residents from its food stamp rolls in a scenario that could soon play out across the country.

The number of healthy, childless adults receiving food stamps in Maine has fallen from 13,589 on Nov. 1, 2014, to 1,206 on Nov. 15 of last year. The drop came after Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration began enforcing work and volunteer requirements.

The drop in Maine preceded changes at the federal level, as more than 1 million residents in 21 states will face losing food stamps if they don’t meet work requirements that began this month. Those who don’t meet the requirements will lose benefits in three months.

LePage’s office points to the Maine’s unemployment rate, which has continued to fall in the months since the work requirement, as evidence that getting people off food stamps was good for the state.

“Requiring able-bodied people to work to receive their benefits just makes common sense and sends the message to Maine’s hard-working taxpayers that their money is truly being use as a hand up, not a hand out,” said Peter Steele, a spokesman for the governor.

But advocates for Maine’s poor say the work requirements have negatively impacted low-income residents in a state where food security already is below average, according to federal data.

“Food has implications in every area. It affects your ability to work, it affects your ability to stay housed, it affects your ability to keep your children in school,” said Christine Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners. “This took us in the other direction.”

Mainers have also experienced other restrictions on food stamps under LePage, such as a rule change to make households without children ineligible for the program if they have assets greater than $5,000. LePage unveiled the rule change in September and said people who receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits should first sell non-essential assets, like boats and recreational vehicles, and use their savings.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in December that Maine was the slowest state in the country at processing food stamp applications. Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said at the time that a drop in the state’s response time stemmed from the rollout of a more modern processing system that will ultimately result in swifter results.

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