We Mainers are hard-working. We also have big hearts.

That’s why I worked for three years to include common-sense work requirements for those applying for food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Giving up on fellow Mainers who are less fortunate is mean-spirited. Bipartisan, good government should always show compassion for our friends and neighbors needing a helping hand, including those training for a job or seeking employment.

The goal should be to help everyone who is able to work to become independent of welfare so they’re not trapped in poverty. You never get ahead while being stuck in government dependency.

In July, I worked with my colleagues to help pass our nation’s farm bill. In addition to crop insurance and other important support for our farmers, the legislation requires 20 hours per week of work, job training or community service for those adults applying for taxpayer-funded food assistance and who are able to work.

The requirement does not apply to children, of course. It addresses only working-age adults ages 18 to 59 with no disabilities and no young children or other dependents at home. It also doesn’t apply to anyone who’s pregnant.

The House-passed bill doesn’t cut any funds from the $70 billion food stamp program. If someone starts to work and doesn’t need food assistance, the funds are redirected into education and job training paid by the federal government. It’s not an unfunded mandate on Maine state government.

Beyond the above exclusions, states are allowed to exempt an additional 15 percent of food stamp applicants for hardship reasons.

During the past 10 years, food stamp enrollment has surged from roughly 28 million to more than 39 million Americans.

With the strong economy, there’s no better time than now to train for a job or to begin working. There are more jobs available than able-bodied adults looking for work. Maine businesses are desperate for employees. Reliable workers are in the catbird seat.

Job training and gainful employment will help break the destructive cycle of generational poverty. Kids and grandkids will learn the importance of work, and the pride and dignity that comes with a paycheck. The best long-term solution to ending hunger in Maine is to provide job training and employment for those able to work, while sustaining a critically important and fully funded food safety net.

And, work requirements will make sure limited taxpayer-funded welfare benefits are directed to those with disabilities, the elderly sick, children and others who cannot care for themselves.

It’s simply not right to give up on those who need assistance. I’m all in for compassionately helping our fellow Americans build brighter futures by furthering their education, training for employment and finding a job.

Mainers of all different stripes – Democrats, independents and Republicans – have supported work requirements, including Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, who said it was “the right thing to do.”

Incredibly, some misguided politicians not only reject work requirements for welfare, they also think it’s a good idea to allow welfare dollars to be spent on booze, tobacco, lottery tickets, bail and tattoos!

Last month, unfortunately, the U.S. Senate failed to include mandatory work requirements for food stamp applicants. Let’s encourage all public officials to embrace these Maine-based, common-sense reforms to help disadvantaged families live better lives with more opportunities and more freedom.

 

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