The Mills administration is ending a controversial program started by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage that added photos on the debit cards of some people who receive food stamps.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement on Friday that called the program an “ineffective policy that threatens eligible Mainers’ access to assistance” and said it would be halted immediately. The program had been in effect since 2014, and recipients of food stamps could have photos added to their public assistance debit card through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

About 20 percent of Mainers who received food stamps, or 19,140, had a photo included on their debit cards.

“Ending this program will help eligible Mainers purchase food and other necessities while reducing state costs and burden,” said Jeanne Lambrew, DHHS commissioner.

The photos on the debit cards led to confusion, and caused some purchases to be denied by grocery store cashiers during the years that it was in  use.  Soon after the policy was adopted in 2014, some food stamp recipients said the state required them to put photos on the EBT cards, while the DHHS said the program was voluntary.

When the program was first proposed, then-Gov. Paul LePage said the photos would help deter fraud and protect benefits “for those who are legally and legitimately” receiving them. In a news release about the program he said the policy would make it “crystal clear that using EBT inappropriately is a crime.”


The U.S. Department of Agriculture criticized the state for not making it clear that the addition of the photos was supposed to be voluntary, and threatened to cut some federal funds to the state for the food stamp program. But the DHHS continued putting photos on EBT cards. In 2016 the state sent out letters telling food stamp recipients that the EBT card “is now a photo card,” but did not say explicitly whether the program was voluntary or not.

Around the time that those letters went out, some advocates for low-income Mainers said that telling people to submit to a photo ID might harm the elderly and the disabled. People in those groups might need someone else to pick up their groceries for them, and having their photo on the card would discourage them from having someone else use it, advocates said.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who oversees the BMV, said in a statement Friday that he agrees with the decision made by administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

“Driver license photos were always meant for driver’s licenses,” Dunlap, also a Democrat, said. “This change will make it easier for people to obtain a card and get the benefits they need to help them through hard times.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier contributed to this report.

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