AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd Congressional District said Wednesday that he is preparing to submit proposed legislation that would bar anyone convicted of association with a terrorist attack from ever receiving food stamp benefits.
The bill, which Poliquin says he will file with U.S. House of Representatives staff on Monday, is called the No Welfare for Terrorists Act. It would close what Poliquin said is a loophole in qualification criteria for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps. That benefit is already banned for people convicted of violent crimes such as murder and rape. But according to Poliquin, the ban does not extend to people who are convicted of aiding terrorists.
Both “international terrorist” and “domestic terrorist” are already defined in U.S. law, generally as people whose acts intend to intimidate the civilian population, influence government by intimidation or coercion, or impede the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Poliquin’s bill applies to both.
Poliquin said by phone Wednesday that he is unaware of anyone convicted of involvement in a terrorist action receiving food stamps in the past, but he is more concerned with the future.
“This is a classic example of a loophole in federal law that we can fix and hopefully fix quickly,” said Poliquin. “It absolutely makes no sense whatsoever to have folks who are trying to kill us, and have been successful to some degree, to provide welfare for them. It’s just crazy.”
According to material provided by Poliquin’s office, there are 49 “homegrown terrorist plotters” serving time in U.S. prisons who will be released in the next 25 years. Poliquin said examples of the people bill would affect include friends and associates of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers, including three who were arrested for destroying evidence or lying to investigators.
“I cannot imagine any member of the House of Representative or the Senate not wanting to close this loophole,” said Poliquin. “There should be no welfare for terrorists, period.”
Poliquin said how the restriction would be carried out would be ultimately determined by the federal Centers for Medicaid Services and state welfare offices. He had no estimates of how much it might cost to implement.
One hurdle the bill could face is the argument that once someone has been convicted of a crime and served his or her time, that person’s debt to society has been paid. Another could be the contention that some people could unknowingly aid a terrorist and be convicted for another crime. Poliquin said he has little sympathy for those arguments.
“If I were to have that conversation, I’d say go talk to the parents of the 8-year-old boy who died in Boston,” said Poliquin. “Go talk to the parents of the 7-year-old little girl who lost a leg as a result of that bombing. Go talk to the family members of the police officer who was shot following the bombings. Ask them if they want to use their tax dollars to pay for food for the accomplices to those bombings.”
National security, as always, is near the forefront of the national political dialogue and has been fueled in recent months by the 2016 presidential campaign. Is Poliquin, who also is running for re-election, simply trying to attach himself to the politically charged conversations about security and welfare reform in hopes of appealing to his voter base?
“This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “This has everything to do with what is right. … This is a very common-sense bill that closes a loophole. I cannot imagine that I’m going to be able to find a taxpayer in our 2nd District that wants to use his or her federal tax dollars to buy food stamps for accomplices to terrorist attacks here in America.”
Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, was noncommittal on Wednesday afternoon, according to her spokesman, Willy Ritch.
“I think everyone agrees that terrorists shouldn’t get federal benefits, but we are going to wait until we see the bill before commenting on this particular piece of legislation,” said Ritch.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King said they also are waiting to see the bill.
“While Senators Collins and King haven’t seen this bill, they certainly support commonsense solutions aimed at protecting taxpayer money and keeping Mainers safe from terrorism,” their communications staffs said Wednesday in a joint statement.