AUGUSTA – The state of Maine will begin putting photo identification on the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards used to disperse welfare benefits this month, according to a Friday press release from Gov. Paul LePage’s Department of Health and Human Service.
“Placing photos on the Maine EBT card supports this Administration’s efforts to strengthen the integrity of our public assistance programs,’’ said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.
“The photo will also help our staff to verify the identity of the benefit recipient and will be helpful in cases where cards have been illegally sold or when multiple cards are in the possession of an individual,” she said.
According to the press release, DHHS will begin issuing new cards on April 28. Current cardholders can go to the Bangor DHHS office voluntarily to have their picture taken and all new cards will automatically include photo ID. Beginning in July, all regional offices will be equipped to take photos.
DHHS says that certain individuals will be exempt from the photo ID requirement, including “the disabled or blind and those 60 and over.”
Many other states, including New York and Massachusetts, already place photo ID on EBT cards.
The initiative will cost Maine taxpayers $165,922 to begin and $41,145 annually thereafter, according to DHHS.
The decision to implement the photo ID requirement follows a more than one-year long back and forth with federal officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was not without controversy.
In March of 2013, LePage blasted President Obama’s Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for leaking information to U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree regarding his administrations application for a federal waiver that would allow for photo IDs on EBT cards. The letter denying LePage’s request was leaked to Michaud and Pingree and ultimately became a front page story in the Portland Press Herald, a newspaper owned by Pingree’s husband, S. Donald Sussman.
But this year, the USDA changed its tune, saying in a February letter that it was perfectly legal for Maine to implement the requirement so long as certain conditions were agreed to and followed.
The controversial change in DHHS policy also follows the Legislature’s rejection of four welfare reform bills backed by LePage and Republican lawmakers.
All four of the bills were aimed at reforming the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, a cash welfare program that is dispersed through EBT cards.
An investigation conducted by The Maine Wire in January found widespread abuse of the TANF program, including transactions in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as transactions at liquor stores, cigarette shops, amusement parks and strip clubs.