Maine Gov. Paul LePage is threatening to end his state food stamp program unless federal administrators allow him to ban junk food, according to reports Tuesday.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) told the governor he must demonstrate why such a ban would be necessary before it would even consider permitting it. The department oversees the program with state agencies but has final say on how it’s run. LePage sent a letter to the department June 17 threatening to shut down the program if the ban is not allowed.
“It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” the letter, which was first obtained by the local affiliate for ABC News, stated. “I will be pursuing options to implement reforms unilaterally or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether. You maintain such a broken program that I do not want my name attached to it.”
USDA spokesman Matt Herrick countered the letter by noting the threat is very dangerous. He warned the end result will be many residents statewide left without food. Herrick added that the state could also end up loosing federal funding if it actually suspends the program.
“If the state chooses not to administer SNAP, then its citizens will not receive nutrition assistance benefits through the programs,” Herrick told The Washington Post. “We do not have the authority or funding to administer snap at the state level.”
The USDA has never allowed for such a ban, but claims it is open to it so long as the state can show why it is necessary. LePage expressed doubt about whether the department was actually open to considering the idea. He notes such a ban should just be considered common sense.
“Your agency states several concerns with the demonstration proposals and I am not naive enough to think there is a path to addressing these concerns to your satisfaction,” the letter continued. “However, prohibiting the purchase of junk food with public benefits is such a common sense proposition.”
The food stamp program is the largest food assistance welfare service in the country. It is officially known as the The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014.
The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December, 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million. States have also begun implementing work requirements which were waived in response to the last recession.
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