Public hearing on proposal that some food stamp recipients work

STATEWIDE (WGME) — The Department of Health and Human Services moves forward with a proposed rule change, requiring some food stamp recipients to work for their benefits.

Wednesday afternoon, the department held a public hearing, the one and only opportunity for Mainers to weigh in.

About two dozen people signed up to speak, most of them from advocacy organizations like Preble Street and the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

They have serious concerns that the 12,000 Mainers this affects, will end up on the street and go hungry.

The governor and DHHS officials say this change is meant to break generational poverty by giving a hand up, not a hand out.

It affects food stamp recipients who are between 18 and 49 years old, not disabled or pregnant and with no dependent children living with them.

Those individuals will be required to either work 20 hours a week, volunteer, or participate in job training or an education program.

They will have three months to meet the requirement or lose their benefits.

Among those who testified today, was a Portland man who says he turned his life around with the help of food stamps. He says under this change, he would have lost his benefits and had to return to soup kitchens and pantries, which can be a major setback.

Thomas Ptacek, former food stamps recipient, says: “You can’t sit from outside that and say that’s a 3 month process or a 6 month process or a year process, you can’t say that, it’s different for each person.”

Mary Mayhew, DHHD Commissioner, says: “There clearly is a demand from employers throughout the state; we believe Maine needs to make this kind of investment so we can break generational poverty in Maine but also invest in the work force in this state.”

Sen. Margaret Craven says: “This is a campaign year initiative by the governor to make people think we have able-bodied people getting free stuff and I wish they’d point someone out to me, I don’t know one.”

From here, DHHS officials say they will review and respond to the testimony and determine whether this requirement needs any modifications but they do expect it to take effect on October first.