An Associated Press story in the Portland Press Herald on Dec. 31, “LePage official fires back over food stamp policy,” raises concerns that, as acting regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (Northeast Region), I would like to address.

The story concerned the state’s election to include a photo on its electronic benefit card, used to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. States have that option. But it can be difficult to implement. If not well planned, photos on the card can adversely affect the ability of needy Americans to put food on the table.

The state mischaracterizes the federal government’s role in ensuring proper administration of the program. Rooting out waste, fraud and abuse is a top priority for the administration. The USDA has worked diligently with the states, providing tools and technical assistance and establishing rules to help states ensure integrity in SNAP.

However, as we explained to state officials last year, a photo requirement involves complex legal, operational and civil rights issues. Many such issues surfaced during implementation in Maine, and the USDA has been working closely with the state to ensure that their photo option is within the bounds of federal law, including that all members of the household and authorized representatives must be able to use the EBT card – no matter whose picture is on the card.

We share common goals of helping Mainers in need, while ensuring that these vital benefits are used as intended. To that end, the federal government will play its role of monitoring and oversight to ensure accountability and responsibility in the administration of this critical nutrition assistance program.

Kurt Messner

acting regional administrator, USDA Food and Nutrition Service (Northeast Region)