Let it be

Like many of us, Governor Paul LePage is frustrated by welfare abuse, but one of his most recent proposals to reform an undeniably flawed system is misguided and completely misses the mark of an otherwise noble goal.

LePageAmong his many other initiatives to rein in government spending and reform Maine’s welfare system, LePage sponsored LD 1411, a bill that would prevent people who qualify for the federal food stamp program from buying soda and so-called “snack foods.”

Sounds good, right? Not exactly.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as SNAP, is a federal program, administered by the US Department of Agriculture.

LD 1411 has garnered bipartisan support. One of the bill’s co-sponsors in State Sen. David Dutremble, a Biddeford Democrat. Others on the left share the governor’s concerns about nutrition and abuse of taxpayer funds.

The bill also seems to have overwhelming public support. A recent online poll in the Portland Press Herald showed that more than 80 percent of participants support the governor’s bill.

But despite the bill’s bi-partisan origins and its broad public support, we all ought to take a closer look at the proposal because it will actually do far more harm than good.

1.) The bill will not save a dime of taxpayer money. Instead, it will likely increase bureaucratic costs. Remember, the bill would not reduce benefits, it simply would exert more government control of an individual’s choice of foods.

2.) Because SNAP is a federal program, the state of Maine will need to get a waiver from the federal government. Considering the fed’s reactions to other waiver requests that were proposed by the LePage Administration, this hurdle seems unrealistic. Given the number of bills that the Legislature has undertaken, we should not be wasting time or state resources on a proposal that has zero chance of becoming reality.

3.) It’s not business friendly. In the unlikely event that LD 1411 finds its way into state law, it would add another layer of government regulations and complexity for merchants, including small and mid-sized grocers who accept federal  food stamps.

4.) The bill is targeted as a punitive swipe at those who use food stamps. Yes, many people abuse the food stamp program, but many more truly need and deserve the benefit in order to avoid hunger. We ought to be more focused on investigating and prosecuting welfare abuse than penalizing everyone who is in an unfortunate circumstance.

5.) LD 1411 misdirects our outrage. As we debate LD 1411, we should also remember that food stamps cannot be used to buy alcohol, lottery tickets or tobacco products. Some Maine families receive a monthly cash benefit known as TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families). Unfortunately, that program has too many loopholes and is more commonly abused than food stamps.

6.) Nutrition? While some Democrats and Republicans like the idea of encouraging better nutrition, this bill will do little to reinforce healthy choices. It would not address many other products, such as sugar, corn syrup, powdered drink mix, cookie dough and ice cream. Our emphasis ought to focus on nutritional education.

7.) LD 1411 would prohibit the purchase of some healthy choices, including: bottled juice products and bottled water.

I applaud Governor LePage for his desire to control government spending. He is a fair-minded individual who two years ago set his critics aback, when he denounced a so-called video sting operation of two DHHS offices by right-wing activists. The media didn’t give him much credit, but it shows that LePage is far more human and fair-minded than the gross caricature his opponents have painted.

LePage knows a thing or two about being poor in Maine. He is a self-made man who grew up in an abusive home and found himself alone on the city streets of Lewiston when he was just 11 years old. His story and ultimate success is inspirational.

Our governor is the proverbial poster child for the “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” crowd, and he wants to see other people succeed the same way he did. Hard work, determination and dedication to improving one’s odds for success.

Considering his background and his staunch fiscally conservative beliefs, LePage understands better than most folks that every dollar of welfare funds wasted represents one less dollar for programs, which are absolutely necessary and vital for Maine’s most vulnerable citizens.

I am a little bit like Governor LePage. I am a Republican who grew up in a mill town. But I also received food stamps at one very low point in my life. I doubt that I could have survived what the governor survived as a child, but I do know that a little bit of help and support from Maine’s taxpayers turned out to be a wise investment.


7 thoughts on “Let it be

  1. Misguided and misses the point, indeed. Like too many of the proposals to change public assistance, the end-run always seems to be austerity. In this case, austerity is a rather myopic goal because the greater issue is education. People make life choices based on what they know and what subsequently becomes a new normal. There is an entirely psychological side to the need for assistance that doesn’t make headlines or gets the due diligence it needs. We are all, by nature, consumers. Now, I’m not just talking about retail consumption, but consumption as a whole. How we spend currency is generally dictated by our standard of living and our sense of self-worth. When people lose these, and rely on public assistance programs, everything changes. Consumption is an odd thing. If I’m self sustaining and getting by well enough, no one really questions my buying habits because it’s assumed that I’m whole. If I’m not self-sustaining and can’t seem to get by without assistance, everyone wants to question my buying habits because I didn’t punch a clock or dig a ditch. No one ever asks if I’m whole. Listen, people don’t buy Twinkies, get scratch tickets or go to a bar to drink with a goal to better their quality of life. They consume these to escape their “normal”. And, normals can be very addictive. Problem is, there are no 12-step programs to help folks make better buying decisions. We want to restrict but seemingly don’t want to educate. Funny, the one resource that should be in this equation somehow isn’t – the American Farmer. We can’t find our way to support those who produce nutritious food, but generate all this wailing and gnashing of teeth that tax dollars are buying soda. Something’s awfully wrong with the math..


  2. I don’t think the government burden would be as big. The government already identifies which foods are tax free and most of those would fall in the nutritional category. Attaching a code to identify them as acceptable to SNAP would not be a problem. The store owner would be able to identify a total that could be accepted with food stamps while the remainder would have to be purchased with cash or credit.

    Also, getting federal government approval should not be a huge hurdle. Considering the government is concerned about preventative health care (Obamacare) this proposal dovetails well. If people are eating better, their overall health will improve.

    In the short term, money won’t be saved, but in the long term, I believe it will prove to be a cost saver.


  3. The idea of support for low income families strikes at the very core of American values. Working people have been shocked by the image of the welfare queens having multiple invisible fathered children while riding in SUVs and texting on smart phones provides the epitome of what’s wrong with government. Providing health care to people who are free to smoke tobacco and gorge on unhealthy processed food offends individuals who are responsible. Every day I read comments by citizens sure that “illegal” immigrants are flooding into the country and being provided with free housing, food, and medical care.
    I agree that the proper reform is not a headline grabbing attack on some snack foods, but a real educational effort to make parents aware of the life time effects of poor food choices.
    I would rather some form of weighting system that would double the credit for choosing locally produced natural foods including meat, seafood, and dairy and half valuing the highly processed and preservative and GMO laced packages from away.
    One way to accomplish might be the creation of a local currency that is accepted in local farmers’ markets that could be acquired at twice the monetary value of “food stamps”. Governor LePage’s picture could even be on them.


  4. Many of the people who receive food stamps all have nice cell phones, many I know can buy beer and cigarettes; however milk for their children is a lower priority that they expect the taxpayers to bear the cost. As stated above just what are you willing to give up for the free money. Do you really need that new tattoo, that piercing, those designer jeans? Yes granted that there are legitimate needs that we should help out with, yet so many are cheating the systems. Women having children with male partners, with whom they are shacked up with, claim to be single and receive food stamps and other welfare benefits without claiming the income, if any, of their live-ins. I have know and still see this happening, it amounts to welfare fraud. There is such an entitlement mentality and the work ethic of the past appears to have vanished. Hard work and taking care of the family you have should be happening. Getting education to have a better paying job is not impossible, many just do not want to work for success. Then again, why work hard if the government (supported by tax payers who work for a living) is going to give you free food, money to live on, free cell phones (which cost tax payers millions and is filling the pockets of the Chinese as they are not made in the USA), and free health care. There are those of us who have worked for everything we have. Thanks to our fine Governor for roping in the wasted money in our state and for his continuing efforts to get our fiscal house in order. We can not continue to carry those who do not seek to provide for themselves and the children that they have created and expect tax payers to pay for. I am more than willing to help honest needs for those working to improve their situation. As our exceptional Governor has said: Get up off the couch and get a job!


    1. I think if you see that, you should report it. If you get no response, report it again. If anyone else complains about fraud, give them the number to report it. It is interesting that everyone is focused on young women and their children. What about the old guys who get disability and work under the table. No one feels more entitled than they do. But are they?


  5. Randy, I’ve heard the Governor speak on many occasions and one of the things that he has repeatedly emphasized is that he understands he may not win on every debate but he feels there are certain conversations that need to be had in the public square in order to make conscious decisions as to their benefit, and he is willing to take the hits as being a bad guy to force these conversations. As you write “…the bill would not reduce benefits, it simply would exert more government control of an individual’s choice of foods.” I believe the public conversation that needs to be had is, ‘if you’re on assistance, how much control of your life (everyday choices) are you willing to give up’ for that free money.


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