LEWISTON — U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said he will submit a federal bill this week to attack welfare fraud, making it harder for people to get replacement Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and banning people convicted of fraud and drug offenses from getting benefits for life.

“This bill is compassionate,” Poliquin said during a Tuesday morning news conference in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park. “It is compassionate in saving precious, limited taxpayer money for those who truly need it. It is compassionate in that it reduces food stamp fraud so that we save money. And it encourages able-bodied individuals to work and make sure they move themselves forward.”

Poliquin, Maine’s Republican 2nd District U.S. representative, said taxpayer money is the main reason for his proposed changes, called the Food Stamp Integrity Act of 2016. He cited budget costs and said this is one way to attack them.

“We have a limited amount of money in our country to take care of those that are truly needy,” Poliquin said. “In order to make sure that happens, we need to eliminate fraud in our public assistance programs and help our families become independent of government assistance.”

His proposed bill would make it harder for people to get replacement EBT cards, which have been traded for drugs in the past, according to a 2015 Sun Journal investigation. Currently, states must replace EBT cards within two days of being reported missing. They cannot investigate the missing cards until a recipient has had four cards replaced.

Poliquin’s changes would let states investigate recipients who have had two cards replaced, and deny replacement after four cards within a year.

“Stolen EBT cards hurt us three ways,” he said. “First, it helps fuel the drug trade that’s killing our kids. Secondly, it is cheating those individuals that desperately need this assistance. And thirdly, it’s cheating the taxpayers that pay the bills.”

It also targets drug and fraud convicts, permanently disqualifying them from getting Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits. Currently, people convicted of welfare fraud can get benefits back after a yearlong ban; drug traffickers can get them back after two years.

It also targets parents delinquent in paying child support. They lose their benefits unless they agree to an approved payment plan with state agencies.

Finally, it requires aid recipients to work, volunteer or be in work training to get SNAP benefits.

“I’ve talked to our local businesses and there are plenty of starter jobs out there, plenty of additional jobs out there,” Poliquin said. “We want to encourage those that are able to work to work — or be involved in community service.”

Poliquin said he was meeting with Lewiston and Auburn police departments after the conference to show his support in the wake of police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

“These are the folks who go out every day and risk their lives to make sure we can do this, that we have our constitutional rights protected,” Poliquin said. “I have to make sure they know we have their back.”

But the congressman declined to discuss national politics, particularly concerning the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

“I’m focusing on my work here in the district,” Poliquin said. “As you can see, I’m not at the convention. I’m not a delegate and they are having their own race and convention and God bless them, but I am focusing on my work for the 2nd District.”

Maine Democrats called the announcement a publicity stunt.

“Congressman Poliquin is motivated by one thing and one thing only: his own political self-interest,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a written statement. “This is just one more example of Poliquin using his soapbox to grandstand, and he clearly thinks that voters have a short memory.”

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