BANGOR — Maine on Monday began issuing welfare benefit cards with photos on them in an effort to crack down on fraud and abuse, despite an urging from the federal government to wait until it can ensure the state’s plan doesn’t negatively affect recipients or retailers.
John Martins, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said about 30 photo electronic benefit transfer cards were issued at the Bangor office as of midday.
The process is starting on a voluntary basis in Bangor first so the state can try out the new system. Eventually, welfare recipients across Maine will be required to have photos on their cards, which are used to buy food and other necessities.
Some recipients, such as those younger than 19 and those 60 or older, will be exempt.
In a letter Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked Maine to delay issuing the new cards until it can fully review and approve the state’s plan. USDA officials said Maine could lose federal funding or face litigation if it violates regulations in the program.
Advocates for the poor say photos on EBT cards are ineffective at combating fraud and are costly.
The startup costs are $165,922, according to the department. It will cost the state $4,154 annually going forward.
DHHS said Friday it would move forward with its plan, saying the federal government’s opposition “defies common-sense logic.”
Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the one-office launch will help the state identify potential problems and weaknesses with the new system before cards across the state are required to have photos.