AUGUSTA — The Portland Press Herald continues its tradition of writing editorials that jump to conclusions and conveniently omit basic facts.

A recent editorial accuses the Maine Department of Health and Human Services of advancing a policy goal of reducing the number of Mainers receiving Food Supplement benefits by “doing a bad job running a program.” It is the latest in a litany of misinformed works of fiction based on the paper’s political agenda.

The reduction in the number of people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, often referred to as food stamps, was spurred by a common-sense policy: Able-bodied adults must work for 20 hours a week, volunteer for about one hour per day or attend a job-training class if they want to receive food stamps beyond three months. This is a federal requirement that Maine had waived for years.

Rather than promoting policies from the past that have contributed to increased dependency on food stamps and other welfare programs, often trapping people in poverty, we are transforming our policies to incentivize employment. This approach advances the fundamental reality that a good-paying job is the best way out of poverty.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his 1935 State of the Union address: “The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of a sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute workers.”

In that vein, the LePage administration is working hard to transition people into work, as well as volunteer opportunities, and we will continue to focus our efforts on employment.


Our success, combined with the indisputable fact that many individuals on food stamps who were well aware of the rules simply refused to comply and lost their benefits, led to the number of Mainers receiving food assistance dropping below 200,000 for the first time since 2009. With an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent – the lowest in Maine since 2002 – we should expect to see a drop as people return to the workforce.

This policy is not a “bureaucratic hurdle,” as the Press Herald editorial board portends. It should not in any way be linked to the recent news about Maine’s speed in processing benefit applications. Doing so is not only inaccurate, it’s irresponsible.

If the Press Herald editorial writers looked beyond their bias, they would see that Maine’s way of processing applications is moving out of the dark ages and into the 21st century.

In the past, a caseworker’s desk would be hidden under countless files and their voicemail overflowing with messages with little ability to track the timeliness of responding to the requests in those files and responses to the voicemail messages.

Our implementation of a modernized eligibility system is a sea change from the old system of outdated work processing to one of increased accountability with data reporting that previously did not exist. The modern system is designed to produce timely and accurate decisions about eligibility.

This will ultimately lead to a more balanced workload and increased efficiency when processing more than 247,000 applications and re-certifications annually with 137,000 related to food stamps.


The Press Herald editorial board ignored that other states like Connecticut and North Carolina received similar warning letters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture when they changed their benefit processing systems and experienced similar growing pains. In fact, the USDA has acknowledged that lag times are inevitable when dealing with a system transition of this magnitude.

I am personally offended and insulted by the notion that my staff is dragging its feet in order to achieve what the Press Herald called “policy objectives through dysfunction.” Our team at the Office for Family Independence is dedicated and committed to meeting the needs of the individuals who qualify for benefits in a timely, efficient manner. I am proud of the work of my staff and their commitment to the people of Maine.

Moving forward, Maine will continue its intense efforts to move people out of poverty by helping them get the skills they need to secure good-paying jobs that lead to personal growth, improved self-esteem and, ultimately, to independence.

At the same time, we will continue our efforts to modernize our benefit determination system, increase program integrity and strengthen the safety net for Maine’s most vulnerable individuals.

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