Maine’s residents would no longer receive food stamps if Gov. Paul LePage delivers on a threat to end the program in his state. In a letter to the Obama administration last week, the governor wrote that beneficiaries were wasting public money on “a steady diet of Mars Bars and Mountain Dew” and that he did not want his name associated with the program.
The letter escalated a long-running dispute between LePage, who is a Republican, and the administration over several aspects of the food-stamp program. Most recently, LePage had wanted to bar Maine residents from using food stamps to buy unhealthy food. When federal officials rejected his proposal to institute such a rule statewide, LePage reacted angrily.
“It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” he concluded in his letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“I will be pursuing options to implement reform unilaterally or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether,” the letter continued. “You maintain such a broken program that I do not want my name attached to it.”
The legal implications of LePage’s threat were not immediately clear. If he carries it out, the governor could put federal officials in a bind, forcing them either to find a way to accede to his demands or suspend the program in Maine. The legislature or the courts in the state could conceivably challenge LePage as well.
The governor’s press office did not respond to a request for clarification Wednesday morning.
LePage is one of a number of conservative politicians who have argued that public-assistance programs are wasteful and called for restrictions on how enrollees use their benefits. Policymakers and Mississippi and other states have put forward similar proposals to prevent food stamps from being spent on unhealthy items.
Last year, LePage imposed rules barring residents of the state from receiving food stamps if they had at least $5,000 in assets deemed “non-essential,” such as bank accounts or secondary vehicles.
As of March, 190,000 people were receiving food stamps in Maine, federal data show. The average family received $212 for the month.