AUGUSTA — Proposals by Gov. Paul LePage that would bar food stamp recipients from using benefits to buy junk food and make convicted drug felons ineligible for public assistance were rejected by lawmakers at the committee level along party lines Thursday.
Both measures, which are part of LePage’s efforts to trim spending on welfare programs, now head to the full Legislature for consideration, where the Health and Human Services Committee’s votes against them could hold up or not.
LD 1411 would prohibit the use of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for foods that are subject to the state’s sales tax. That would rule out a range of foods defined as “junk foods” by the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, including soft drinks and certain snack foods.
A resolve from LePage that led to the writing of the bill reads, “the purchase of unhealthy products in antithetical to the purpose of the program.”
If passed into law, the bill would allow the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prohibit use of the SNAP program for junk food. Democrats on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted to recommend against the bill, with Republicans in the minority “ought to pass” stance. The vote was 8-5.
The concept has tried and failed before. In 2011, the Department of Agriculture rejected a similar proposal from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg because it would have been too large and complex to implement.
Another bill championed by LePage. LD 1443, An Act to Make Convicted Drug Felons Ineligible for TANF Assistance, also received an “ought not to pass” recommendation with Democrats banding together in the majority. The committee’s clerk said all the votes hadn’t been cast as of Thursday evening but that the outcome was clear.
TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is a federal program that provides funding to families in need.
The law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of a drug-related felony from being denied TANF benefits because of that conviction, though the law also allows drug testing of drug felons receiving the benefits. Anyone who tests positive can request a second test and if it’s positive again, they would be required to enroll in a substance abuse treatment program in order to maintain their benefits.
LD 1443, which was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, would repeal those provisions.
Instead, the bill states that anyone convicted of a drug-related felony after August 22, 1996, is ineligible for TANF benefits, including anyone receiving those benefits on the day the bill goes into law. It requires TANF benefits recipients to provide signed statements about whether the applicant or any member of his or her family has been convicted of a drug-related felony.