AUGUSTA — While some of Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s proposals to overhaul the state’s welfare programs have hit resistance in the Legislature, the administration is pushing forward with a piece of its agenda that it doesn’t need lawmakers to sign off on: putting photo identification on benefit cards.
The Republican governor’s administration is getting close to launching a pilot project to include IDs on electronic benefit transfer cards, which low-income people use to buy food and other necessities, Department of Health and Human Services spokesman John Martins said Tuesday. The effort would then be expanded statewide, he said.
Many details about the plan remain unknown, but it’s part of LePage’s larger push to target welfare fraud and abuse to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t being spent improperly. That includes legislative proposals to limit use of EBT cards outside of Maine and to prohibit buying cigarettes and alcohol that are currently being examined by the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.
But LePage’s newest effort, like the governor’s other welfare-related proposals this session, is getting pushback from advocates who say it’s been costly and ineffective at preventing fraud in other states and could potentially harm those who rely on benefits.
“It just seems to be more of the same kind of approach that we’ve seen over and over again in the last few months,” said Christine Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners. “The administration is putting forward ideas to theoretically deal with fraud, when in fact they already have an arsenal of statutes that prevents improper use of these cards.”
Among other things, the photo-ID requirement raises concerns about blocking household members other than the primary card holder from using the cards like they’re currently allowed to do, Hastedt said.
Federal officials have asked the department for information about how it plans to implement the EBT-card photos to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect welfare-benefit operations.
The federal government must work closely with Maine as the photos have raised “complex legal, operational and civil rights issues,” in other states, Jessica Shahin, associated administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wrote in a letter to the state in February.