AUGUSTA – After heavy resistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last year, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is moving forward with an initiative to curb welfare fraud and abuse.
The USDA’s Associate Administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has told DHHS Commissioner Mary Hayhew that the state can add photo identification to Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards so long as certain federal guidelines are met, according to a letter obtained by The Maine Wire.
Although Jessica Shahin of the USDA related several concerns about the initiative, the letter indicates that adding photo ID to EBT cards is permissible under federal law and will not cause Maine to lose federal SNAP funding.
“The addition of photos to the EBT card, especially in a State that has never done so before, is a very sensitive issue for clients, advocates and retailers,” Shahin said in a Feb. 26 letter to Mayhew.
“Because of the complex legal, operational, and civil rights issues that have arisen around the implementation of photo EBT cards elsewhere, as well as the potential risk for litigation should something go wrong, [Food and Nutrition Service] FNS must work closely with DHHS to ensure that implementation is seamless and within the bounds of law and regulation,” said Shahin.
In order to police Maine’s implementation of photo ID on EBT cards, the federal government has requested information indicating that the “photo EBT card process will not adversely affect day-to-day SNAP operations.”
The written plan Shahin asks for must include the following:
- Timetable of specific action steps for implementing the requirement
- Description of where and how photo cards will be produced
- Identification of where existing photos will come from
- Description of the “universe of clients and/or authorized representatives” that will be required to submit photos, and “persons who will be exempt from the photo requirement.”
- Explanation of how DHHS will ensure federal laws and regulations are followed
- Description of any client, retailer or community training DHHS will perform
- Explanation of methods to be used to activate new cards and disable old ones
- Resources in place to handle calls from clients or retailers and “unexpected events” related to photo EBT card issuance.
The letter outlines a number of bureaucratic hoops DHHS must jump through before implementing the photo ID requirement and asks for a report within 45 days. “It is essential that any action that will have a direct impact on clients, retailers or local DHHS staff is deferred until FNS has had the opportunity to review and approve the plan,” said Shahin.
A number of other states have placed photo ID on EBT cards, most notably the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Last year, Massachusetts State lawmakers passed the requirement into law in order to crack down on fraud and abuse in the welfare system. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick agreed to the measure as part of a budget bill he signed in July and the state began issuing the new EBT cards in November.
Critics of the Bay State initiative decried the measure as “victimizing” poor people while doing nothing meaningful to combat fraud.
Editor, Maine Wire