(UPDATED) Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Despite Opposition, Maine is Putting Photos on All EBT Cards
Updated post from July to reflect the following letter from the USDA to Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew dated 11/20/14:
As the Portland Press Herald is reporting, Maine has 45 days to respond to the letter, else risk losing 50% of the funding that helps cover SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) administrative costs.
- “Since Maine has represented to (the USDA) that the state’s EBT photo program is optional, the state must affirmatively demonstrate that SNAP clients have a choice whether to have a photo on their EBT card and their choice does not adversely affect their SNAP eligibility,” Kurt Messner, administrator for the USDA’s Northeast Region, wrote in the letter dated Thursday.
Messner went on to say that “there are significant civil rights concerns about the state’s practice of taking photos of all non-applicant household members.” The practice, according to Messner, may represent a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Any individual who applies for SNAP on behalf of eligible household members must be able to access the program without fear,” Messner wrote.
Newly minted DHHS spokesman David Sorensen responded that “that the photo ID measure is a policy, not a rule or law” and that Commissioner Mayhew “plans to review some of the USDA allegations, including the claim that recipients are given the impression that a photo is mandatory.”
Mayhew is quoted:
- “We remain 100 percent committed to placing photos on EBT cards. While we are still reviewing the letter, it is imperative that Maine is able to implement common-sense reforms to ensure the integrity of our welfare system, preserving resources for the truly needy while protecting taxpayers.”
ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners have also weighed in:
“Maine has a real hunger problem and it’s very serious,” said Chris Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners. “(SNAP) is being administered in a way that the state is creating more hunger problems and greater barriers for those who are hungry. The state has to tell people upfront that they have a choice about the photo ID.”
“Requiring photo ID on EBT cards is incredibly costly, it’s ineffective and the Department of Agriculture has said it’s illegal,”Zachary Heiden, the ACLU of Maine’s legal director, said in a written statement. “If the administration wants to do what’s best for the state, it will stop punishing people who are struggling in this tough economy.”
Originally posted July 9.
A few weeks ago, DHHS officials provided case workers the following instructions regarding the photo ID EBT card changes the LePage administration was making.
DHHS also provided those same case workers a script of prepared answers to use when the inevitable questions would arise:
Two men from South Thomaston were arrested last week for trafficking bath salts. Drug enforcement agents seized three handguns, $25,000 in cash and—yes, you guessed it—seven EBT cards.
Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.The drug dealer admitted that the seven EBT cards were given to him as payment for the drugs. Bath salts contain very dangerous synthetic stimulants. They result in overdoses, hallucinations and even death. It’s bad enough that some people will pay for these drugs, but it is even worse when taxpayer dollars are used to pay for them.
This drug bust, along with several others, shows EBT cards are being used to support criminal behavior invading our state.
I had a plan that added 14 agents to fight drug crime, but liberal politicians rejected it. Democrats couldn’t even say yes, when I found the money for a compromise package with fewer drug agents, judges, prosecutors and supported an additional $750,000 for substance abuse treatment. Instead, liberal politicians swept the bill under the rug killing the compromise in the middle of the night.
Despite all evidence, including major drug busts day after day, Democrats refuse to address drug crime in our State.
These same liberal politicians also believe that a certain level of EBT fraud is acceptable. I don’t think any level of EBT fraud is acceptable, and I know you don’t either. Using an EBT card to buy drugs means a needy child, elderly or disabled person is not getting their benefits.
That’s why we are moving ahead with our plan to put photos on all EBT cards. It will not stop all EBT fraud, but it will make it easier to identify who is abusing these cards. It puts those who would abuse EBT cards on notice that the state is holding them accountable.
To test the plan to put photos on EBT cards, the Department of Health and Human Services ran a pilot project in its Bangor office. DHHS studied the mistakes other states made to ensure they did it right. The pilot program ran for two months and was very successful.
We are now implementing the program statewide. The new card not only features a photo, but it also clearly states that misuse of the EBT card is considered a crime. Photos on the new EBT cards will help DHHS verify the identity of the card holder. The photos will be helpful in cases where EBT cards are sold for cash or drugs.
They will also help determine who is the rightful owner of a card when multiple EBT cards are found on an individual.
There are about 223,000 EBT cards in Maine. These cards are loaded with benefits such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other welfare benefits. Over the last 12 months, more than $383 million in benefits have been put on Maine EBT cards.
Even if just one percent is wasted or abused, that’s almost 4 million dollars. Wasting 4 million dollars of taxpayer money may be okay to liberals in Maine and Washington, D.C., but it’s not okay with me.
While I am your Governor, I won’t tolerate one dollar of waste, fraud or abuse. I believe it’s government’s responsibility to ensure your taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. That’s why my administration will keep moving forward to protect taxpayer dollars and the benefits that are truly needed by our most vulnerable citizens.
Thank you for listening.