The fight over welfare reform took a new twist last week, as Democrats in the Health and Human Services Committee voted along party lines to support a bill which would roll-back recently reinstated welfare work requirements.
The bill, LD 1052, would force Maine to once-again waive federal requirements which mandate that adults without disabilities or children must work 20 hours per week or volunteer one hour per day after receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits for 3 months, or else be cut from the program.
Maine has recently begun enforcing this federal requirement after years of seeking a waiver for this provision from the federal government. By implementing the requirement, Maine has greatly reduced the size of the SNAP program, as it was revealed this March that 9,000 fewer childless able-bodied adults are now receiving benefits.
“We must continue to do all that we can to eliminate generational poverty and get people back to work,” said Governor LePage in July 2014 when he announced that Maine would enforce the work requirement. “We must protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient.”
In February 2014, Maine was ranked 9th highest in the country in terms of the percent of its population receiving SNAP benefits. But between February 2014 and February 2015, Maine experienced the greatest decline among states in individuals using the SNAP program, as it had 15% of SNAP recipients leave the program.
However, Maine Democrats remained unconvinced that Maine should continue to waive the federal work requirement. Rep. Scott Hamann (D-South Portland), the sponsor of LD 1052, testified that the current 3-month grace period that allows childless and able-bodied adults to not work and still receive SNAP benefits is not enough.
“We are failing rural Mainers if we turn our back on them in their time of need,” said Hamann.
His bill would allow individuals who reside in “counties, labor market areas or other areas” that are experiencing high unemployment or a lack of jobs to continue to receive benefits even if they are not working.
Rep. Hamann also admitted that even though he would “prefer” Maine to seek a state-wide waiver for this requirement, he chose to target specific areas because he understands “the politics involved” in this issue.
Requiring welfare recipients to obtain some form of employment or volunteer position has proven immensely popular, as a 2012 Rasmussen poll found that 83% of Americans believe a work requirement is a necessary qualification for receiving welfare benefits.
If this bill passes, it is unclear how many childless and able-bodied adults could potentially return to the SNAP program.