Adding new meaning to the phrase, “will work for food,” Maine’s food stamp program comes with strings attached. The taxpayer funded food stamp program supplies funds, usually in the form of a debit card, so qualified individuals can have sufficient funds for food. Since 2000, the costs to the taxpayer for food stamp programs have quadrupled, from 20.7 billion in 2000 to 83.1 billion in 2014. The rising costs and the rising numbers of Americans on food stamps have forced some states to find ways to cut those costs. Maine took a bold new approach to funding food stamps and is saving money in the process.
Adding to the costs for food stamps are Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents, that is those between ages the of 18 to 49 without children. Between 2008 to 2016, there was a 2.5 million increase in ABAWD’s who applied for welfare, from 2 million recipients to 4.7 million. With the rising costs and rising numbers of recipients of food stamp assistance, Maine now requires all ABAWD to take a job, participate in a free job training program or perform 6 hours per week of community service in order to receive the food stamp assistance.
Maine’s Governor, Paul LePage, spearheaded the program. All ABAWD’s who took a job were not required to attend job training or perform community service. Those who could not find a job were required to attend the training or make themselves available for designated community service opportunities.
The new program requirements went into effect in January of 2015. Over the following three months, the number of able-bodied food stamp recipients dropped 80 percent, from 13,300 to 2,600. These results, of course, provides a decreased burden on the taxpayer.
In a report detailing Maine’s new work for food requirement, Robert Rector, Rachel Sheffield, Kevin D. Dayaratna, Ph.D suggest the federal government should implement a similar requirement at the federal level, much like President Clinton did in 1996 when welfare was reformed. The authors suggest, “The federal government should establish work requirements similar to Maine’s for the 4.7 million ABAWDs currently receiving food stamps nationwide. If the caseload drops at the same rate it did in Maine (which is very likely), taxpayer savings would be over $8.4 billion per year. Further reforms could bring the savings to $9.7 billion per year: around $100 per year for every individual currently paying federal income tax.”