LEWISTON, Maine — U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said he will submit a bill this week aimed at welfare fraud, making it harder for people to get replacement electronic benefit transfer cards and banning people convicted of fraud and drug offenses from getting benefits for life.
The Republican from Maine’s 2nd District said taxpayer money is the main reason for his proposed changes, called the Food Stamp Integrity Act of 2016. He cited budget costs and said this is one way to attack them.
“We have a limited amount of money in our country to take care of those that are truly needy,” Poliquin said. “In order to make sure that happens, we need to eliminate fraud in our public assistance programs and help our families become independent of government assistance.”
His proposed bill would make it harder for people to get replacement EBT cards, which have been traded for drugs in the past, according to a 2015 Sun Journal investigation.
Now, states must replace EBT cards within two days of them being reported missing. They can’t investigate the missing cards until a recipient has had four cards replaced. Poliquin’s changes would let states investigate recipients who have had two cards replaced, and deny replacement after four cards within a year.
“Stolen EBT cards hurt us three ways,” he said. “First, it helps fuel the drug trade that’s killing our kids. Secondly, it is cheating those individuals that desperately need this assistance. And thirdly, it’s cheating the taxpayers that pay the bills.”
The bill also would target people convicted of drug offenses and fraud, permanently disqualifying them from getting Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits. Currently, people convicted of welfare fraud can get benefits back after a yearlong ban; people convicted of drug trafficking can get them back after two years.
It also targets parents delinquent in paying child support. They lose their benefits unless they agree to an approved payment plan with state agencies. Finally, it requires aid recipients to work, volunteer or be in work training to get SNAP benefits.
“We want to encourage those that are able to work to work or be involved in community service,” he said.
The timing of Poliquin’s event was notable — during his party’s national convention in Cleveland, where New York City billionaire Donald Trump will be officially nominated for president this week and as Poliquin is about to start campaigning in earnest against Democrat Emily Cain, who’s facing him in a nationally targeted rematch of their 2014 campaign.
Poliquin has taken pains to stay out of the presidential race so far. He hasn’t endorsed Trump explicitly, only releasing a statement praising his trade stances and experience as a “job creator.”
Poliquin continued that tack on Tuesday, separating himself a bit from his party when questioned about the convention, saying “they are having their own race and convention and God bless them, but I am focusing on my work for the 2nd District.”
But the Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett called the announcement a publicity stunt.
“Congressman Poliquin is motivated by one thing and one thing only: his own political self-interest,” he said in a statement. “This is just one more example of Poliquin using his soapbox to grandstand, and he clearly thinks that voters have a short memory.”
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.