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Journal Tribune
Updated September 10, 2019
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Up to 44,000 Mainers in danger of losing food stamp benefits under new Trump rule

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services projects 27 percent of Maine food stamp recipients, or 44,068, would be in danger of losing benefits after the rule change, including 11,031 children and 9,598 seniors or people with disabilities. It’s unknown how many of those people would sign up for food stamp benefits without automatic enrollment.

Meanwhile, a national think tank is estimating about 25,000 Mainers would lose benefits. It was not immediately clear on Thursday why the estimates diverged, but Maine DHHS methodology used actual caseloads from this year, while the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation based its estimates on statistical modeling of how many people per state would lose benefits, and used older Maine data.

The proposed rule would forbid states from automatically enrolling people in food stamps when they apply for other public assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the free-and-reduced school lunch program.

“This proposal would take healthy food off the plates of children, older Mainers, and people with disabilities while punishing hard-working families,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Maine health and human services commissioner. “We urge the (Trump) administration to rescind this misguided proposal, which will hurt Maine people who are just trying to make ends meet.”

Meanwhile, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropy focused on health issues, conducted a separate analysis that showed about 25,000 Mainers would lose benefits. The foundation released state-by-state estimates on Thursday for losses under the proposed rule.

The foundation estimated 14 percent of Mainers with food stamps – officially called SNAP – would stand to lose assistance that can be used to buy groceries.

With current enrollment of about 164,000 Mainers with food stamps, that would be about 23,000 people losing benefits. Because the foundation was using slightly older food stamp enrollment figures – when enrollment was higher – the foundation estimated 25,921 would lose SNAP benefits.

Nationally, 9 percent of food stamp recipients, about 3.6 million people, would lose food stamp benefits under the program. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have some form of automatic enrollment into the food stamp program, while 11 states, including Virginia, South Dakota and Missouri do not. All New England states automatically enroll people to receive food stamps when they apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

“This rule is aimed at harming some of the most vulnerable people in our state, children, older Mainers and people with disabilities,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, of Maine Equal Justice, an Augusta-based think tank that advocates on behalf of low-income people. “Any policy that makes it harder for people to get food – such as the SNAP rule proposed by the Trump administration – is going to make more Mainers hungry and that affects their health, ability work, success in school, and the well-being of people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s wrong.”

The Trump administration is taking public comments through Sept. 23, and while it’s unknown how long it could take for the rule to go into effect, it would likely take several months.

Federal officials have argued that implementing the rule will prevent those who are not eligible for food stamps from receiving them. The status quo “compromises program integrity and reduces public confidence that benefits are being provided to eligible households,” according to the federal document explaining the rationale for curtailing the program.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in August that states “have misused this flexibility” in the food stamp program.

“We are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it,” Perdue said, according to news reports.

The Mills administration sent a letter to Perdue in August urging him to maintain the current automatic enrollment rules.

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