Advocates for the poor urged Gov. Paul LePage's administration Wednesday to scrap a plan that would require people to have a job to receive food stamps.
The Republican governor's administration said the goal is to ensure that recipients become economically independent. But at a public hearing on the proposed change, advocates warned that the plan will cause many recipients to lose their benefits because they can't find a job, and as a result, go hungry.
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Clara Whitney of the Good Shepherd Food Bank said the proposal — expected to affect about 12,000 Maine residents — would force people to choose between paying for food and things like heat and electricity. She said it would force more people to seek help from food pantries, which already are strapped for money and resources.
"It's unrealistic to think that food pantries could pick up the pieces after this policy change is implemented," Whitney said.
The administration announced last month that it will no longer seek a federal waiver that has allowed jobless people to continue receiving benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The federal government gives the waiver to states with high unemployment rates or a lack of jobs. Maine has used the waiver since 2010 and still qualifies for it, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the administration's plan, most recipients between ages 18 and 49 would have to work at least 20 hours a week, do volunteer work or participate in a work-training program, or they would lose their benefits after three months.
Officials say they will work to help recipients meet the requirement by providing things like job-search training.
Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage, said the administration is not looking to take away benefits, but rather to help recipients find a job.
"Training and education are ways to life someone put of poverty," she said. "It's about helping people find work and giving them long-term economic stability."