Inside Augusta

New Rule to Ban Food Stamps for Major Lottery and Gambling Winners

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Winners of $5,000 or more will be removed from SNAP when they win

AUGUSTA— Under a new rule established by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), winners of significant lottery and gambling prizes will be removed from the food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The rule, which has been approved for adoption, allows for immediate termination of benefits when a welfare recipient collects winnings of $5,000 or more in one calendar month. If the prize remains with the individual, it will continue to count as an asset that could disqualify someone from welfare because of the asset limit recently adopted by the LePage administration.

“This rule is consistent with recent Congressional reforms regarding the food stamp program and lottery winnings designed to ensure that this tax-payer funded benefit is appropriately supporting those who truly need the welfare assistance,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “Just like when we limited the amount of assets someone could have while receiving welfare benefits, this change ensures individuals are not using the program when they don’t need it. It allows taxpayers to have faith in the system and know their tax dollars are going where they are most needed.”

In 2015, the Department found[i] that since 2010, there were 4,865 winning tickets of $1,000 or more that were cashed in by 3,685 individuals who were receiving SNAP, TANF or MaineCare (or some combination of those benefits) at the time that they won. The winners received more than $22 million in prizes while open on welfare programs.

“In no way, shape or form should taxpayers be asked to foot the bill for someone who is gambling and winning huge amounts of money,” said Commissioner Mayhew. “Welfare benefits shouldn’t be used for gambling or lottery, and someone who beats the long odds and ‘wins big’ shouldn’t continue receiving assistance while he or she has that money. Along with our recent ban on using welfare benefits to to purchase lottery tickets, this rule makes sure that taxpayers aren’t subsidizing gambling or giving benefits to those who have other means.”

The LePage administration was successful this year in passing a law to bar people from spending welfare money on lottery tickets, along with other items like tobacco, liquor and bail. In January, the Department also introduced asset testing for certain SNAP benefits. This requires those applying or re-applying for SNAP benefits to disclose their assets, and if those assets exceed $5,000 in value, some applicants will be ineligible for benefits. Imposing an asset limit reinstated a provision of federal law that Maine has waived in recent years.

[i] Assets do not include equity in a home or a household’s primary vehicle. Assets do include the balance of bank accounts, snowmobiles, boats, motorcycles, jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, recreational vehicles, campers and other valuables.

About Office of Governor Paul LePage

A business leader who served his community as mayor, Paul LePage decided to run for Governor believing the approach that had succeeded throughout his business career and in Waterville could work for all of Maine. Paul LePage was sworn in as Maine Governor on Wednesday, January 5, 2011 and is currently serving his second term.

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