USDA: LePage's Food Stamp Threat Jeopardizes Benefits for Mainers

Jun 22, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine - The federal agency that oversees and funds state food stamp programs says Mainers receiving food assistance could lose it if the state relinquishes administration of the program.

The statement, provided to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, is in response to Gov. Paul LePage's threat to end the state's administration of a program that last month provided benefits to more than 195,000 Mainers.

"So states have the option of running a SNAP benefits program, but if a state decides not to, the federal government cannot step in and do this," Pingree says.

Pingree's statement follows an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees and funds state food stamp programs, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP; the USDA did not directly address media inquiries about the ramifications of Maine ceding control of its SNAP program on Tuesday. But it did provide answers to Pingree.

According to the email from the USDA to Pingree, the federal agency has neither the authority, nor the funding, to administer SNAP at the state level.

LePage threatened to give up administration of the $250 million food stamp program if the federal government doesn't allow Maine to prohibit the purchase of sugary snacks and drinks with benefit cards. The agency cited a number of deficiencies with the state's request, primarily that it has failed to demonstrate how the project will curb obesity.

The governor has since declared his desire to proceed with the ban anyway. According to the USDA email to Pingree, implementing the ban without federal approval risks the loss of federal funding to administer the program. Also, the state would likely have difficulty implementing the ban on its own because authorized SNAP retailers are bound by law to operate in accordance with federal policy.