AUGUSTA — Republican Gov. Paul LePage says that the new electronic benefit cards with photos on them will ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately and allow officials to identify abuse.

In his weekly radio address on Wednesday, LePage criticized Democrats for failing to approve his efforts to overhaul the state’s welfare programs this session and applauded the new welfare benefit cards that officials began handing out on Monday.

Last week, the federal government urged Maine not to start using the new cards until it can ensure that recipients and retailers won’t be negatively impacted and warned that Maine could risk litigation or a loss of federal funding if it violates regulations in the program.

But LePage’s administration said it would move forward with the effort despite those concerns.

“We can’t wait for liberals to wake up to reality,” LePage said. “We can’t waste time playing games with Washington, D.C. We are taking action.”

Recipients are switching over to the new cards voluntarily in Bangor first so that the state can try out the new system. Ultimately, recipients across Maine will have photos on the cards, which are used to buy food and other necessities.

LePage said the pilot project in Bangor will allow the state to make adjustments and corrections to the system before it’s implemented statewide.

Advocates for the poor say that the new cards will put up barriers for recipients who rely on their neighbors or children to buy food for them. They also say the new cards will be costly and that most people are using their benefits appropriately.

But LePage said the cards are often being traded as currency and have also been seized during drug busts.

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