Maine governor takes on USDA to fight food stamp fraud

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Maine Gov. Paul LePage blasted the United States Department of Agriculture for denying his request for a waiver to allow the state to require food stamp recipients to provide photo identification when using their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards as way to cut down on fraud.

“[USDA] denied our request, saying that the use of photo ID would be ineffective in reducing fraud and abuse,” he said during his weekly radio address over the weekend. “This is a shocking statement.”

The USDA also said in their denial letter that such a requirement would result in the “material impairment of statutory and regulatory rights” of food stamp recipients.

LePage pointed out that private businesses lose customers when their security is infringed upon, noting that many credit and debit cards include photo identification on the card and arguing that the “Food and Nutrition Act specifically allows for identification to be placed on EBT cards” and that there is “no functional difference” between having a photo on the EBT card and mandating a card be shown.

“The same goal is achieved either way,” he said. “That’s why the denial is so disturbing.”

The Republican governor further took issue which the manner in which the USDA notified, or failed to notify, his administration of the waiver request rejection — namely providing the rejection noticed to Maine’s Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud and the press prior to notifying LePage.

Indeed, according to a report in The Maine Wire, LePage first learned of the USDA’s denial in the Portland Press Herald in mid-February — a paper owned by Pingree and her husband S. Donald Sussman — and responded with frustration in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Feb. 21.

“I am very concerned that both my office and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services received a copy of the letter from the Portland Press Herald before we received it through official channels. This is becoming a pattern for the federal government,” he wrote, according to The Maine Wire. LePage added that the U.S. Department of Labor also leaked a letter denying a waiver request that would have allowed LePage to reconstruct the Maine State and Local Workforce Investment Boards to a congressional office prior to providing it to him.

“While the United States Postal Service may be in financial trouble, they will still deliver the mail if Washington would be kind enough to send us these letters before sharing with everyone else,” LePage wrote, according to The Wire.

In his radio address railing against the USDA’s decision and procedure LePage said that while is is not angry that the press obtained the letters he is upset his administration did nor obtained them first.

“The federal government must be held accountable for these serious mistakes in protocol and common courtesy,” he said. “Accountability is essential in state government, as well. The state of Maine employs 13,000 people, and their public service is of vital importance to Maine people.”

According the Portland Press Herald, one in five Maine residents participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps, and the estimated amount of fraud in the state mirrors that of the nation, at one percent, or $3.7 million annually in Maine.

USDA did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment about LePage’s claims.

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