AUGUSTA — A proposal by Gov. Paul LePage that would bar food stamp recipients from spending their benefits on soft drinks and certain snack foods made its way to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Friday with bipartisan support.
The LePage bill, LD 1411, is sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, the assistant Senate Republican leader, and is co-sponsored by five Democrats and four Republicans.
“It seems to me, if we are using taxpayer dollars to provide food for those less fortunate among us, we ought to make sure that what we are providing is healthy,” Katz said in a prepared statement.
The Democratic co-sponsors are Reps. Craig Hickman of Winthrop, Brian Jones of Freedom, Teresea Hayes of Buckfield, Sara Gideon of Freeport and Sen. David Dutremble of Biddeford.
The bill would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to apply for a waiver from the federal government that would allow the state to bar food stamp recipients from using benefits to purchase soft drinks and snack foods.
The state’s chances of securing the waiver aren’t particularly promising. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011 rejected a similar waiver request from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, saying the waiver program would have been “too large and complex” to implement and evaluate, the New York Times reported.
The Maine waiver would apply to soft drinks and snack foods that are subject to the state sales tax, such as candy bars, gummy bears and chewing gum.
The Health and Human Services Committee on Friday also heard testimony on another LePage bill, LD 1443, that would make drug felons ineligible for benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program. That measure is only sponsored by Republican legislators.
If the proposal passes, Maine would join 12 states that bar all convicted drug felons from receiving TANF assistance. Federal welfare laws since 1996 have barred drug felons from receiving cash assistance through TANF — while continuing to be eligible for other benefits available through the program, such as child care and certain job opportunities — though states are allowed to opt out of that restriction.
According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service, Maine is one of 13 states that opted out of barring drug felons from receiving welfare benefits, while another 12 have kept the ban fully in place.