A Tale of Two Administrations in Maine

It was the best of intentions, it was the worst of intentions, it was for all the right reasons, it was for all the wrong reasons, it was a necessary stand against tyrannical malfeasance, it was a complete load of delusional garbage.

Governor LePage and Portland’s Mayor Mike Brennan, two of Maine’s top political foes, have recently found a common bond: they’re both challenging higher ranking government officials.

Maine governor Paul LePage (left) and Portland mayor Mike Brennan. Photo credits- Troy R. Bennett/Robert F. Bukaty, BDN

Maine governor Paul LePage (left) and Portland mayor Mike Brennan. Photo credits- Troy R. Bennett/Robert F. Bukaty, BDN

The LePage administration is defying the federal government, and Brennan is standing up to the state government (aka LePage), and in each case substantial and badly needed monetary support is in jeopardy of being withheld.

The similarities stop there, because Brennan’s administration acts in an effort to help give severely struggling people a hand up, while LePage’s does so merely to prove some nonsensical point born out of spite.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, let me catch you up to speed:

LePage’s administration is refusing to quit strong-arming food stamp recipients into getting their photos put on the EBT cards that they use for their funds. Maine administers the benefits for the program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), on behalf of the federal government.

The federal agency in charge, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has said it will pull roughly $8.9 million from the program if Maine doesn’t change the photo ID policy, which the FNS said could be a civil rights violation.

Department of Health and Human Services commissioner Mary Mayhew, a LePage appointee, doesn’t seem daunted, going as far as to threaten the federal government by alluding to the possibility of shutting down the program altogether in a Dec. 18 letter to FNS Northeast regional administrator, Kurt Messner.

DHHS commissioner Mary Mayhew with Paul LePage. Photo- Pat Wellenbach, AP.

DHHS commissioner Mary Mayhew with Paul LePage. Photo- Pat Wellenbach, AP.

In the letter Mayhew wrote, “If FNS will not permit Maine to pursue program reforms allowed by regulation and law that improve the Food Stamp program in Maine without the threat of reduced funding or further investigations, we will have to re-evaluate our partnership with the federal government.”

I’m not sure what world Mayhew is living in, but she sounds like a spoiled child threatening to run away from home if she can’t have her little brothers lunch.

Mayhew and LePage claim to be pushing for the measure because they believe the photo ID requirement will prevent fraudulent use of the SNAP benefits.

Sample of a new Maine EBT card. Photo- Linda Coan O'Kresik.

Sample of a new Maine EBT card. Photo- Linda Coan O’Kresik.

As someone who has seen legitimate and fraudulent use of the program firsthand, I can say that the photos on the cards will do absolutely nothing to prevent the relatively small amount of illegitimate use of the benefits that occurs.

Or, as Messner wrote in a statement on Tuesday, “As we explained to state officials earlier this year, a photo requirement involves complex legal, operational, and civil rights issues, and unfortunately, we found that the state’s implementation was confusing to many consumers and very vague to store clerks and as such did not meet the requirements.”

In other words, the photos simply don’t accomplish anything other than possibly violating the civil rights of the roughly 249,000 Mainers who receive SNAP benefits.

On the other side of the coin, Brennan and the rest of the leadership at Portland City Hall have refused to stop giving aid to undocumented immigrants unable to work while awaiting their asylum applications to be reviewed at the federal level.

LePage is unwilling to acknowledge that these people aren’t here illegally, and is bent on perpetuating the falsity of the issue, along with some of his more misinformed Republican cohorts.

As a retaliation for Portland’s refusal to stop giving the General Assistance disbursements to the immigrants in limbo, LePage has threatened to withhold reimbursements to municipalities who defy his order.

In Portland’s case, the loss could cost the city anywhere from $3 million to $9 million, depending on the severity of LePage’s temper tantrum.

Through all of this, the city of Portland among other towns has said that we’re obligated to give the benefits to anyone who needs it, including undocumented immigrants.

Regardless of how you feel about SNAP benefits or immigration, the fact is that in each of these cases it is the LePage administration that is forcing the hand.

The federal government does not want to have to deal with this petty nonsense any more than Portland’s local government wants to, because lives are on the line, and because there’s so many other things they should be working on.

The governor talks a lot about what a hard-working, pragmatic leader he is, but he has wasted so much time and resources acting like a petulant bully on the playground. It’s time he focuses on bettering the lives of the struggling Mainers he claims to care about, or at least quit kicking them when they’re down.

Mainers proved at the voting booths this past November that we’re willing to drink LePage’s Kool-aid, but if a quarter million of us have nothing to eat, that sugar water’s gonna’ dry up pretty damn fast.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.