AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced Thursday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied him on a second try in his long-standing battle to ban soft drink and candy purchases with federal food stamp benefits.
The Republican governor called it “extremely disappointing” in a radio address. A LePage spokeswoman said that the federal agency handed down the decision this week and that Maine plans to revise and resubmit the request.
It’s a sign that the administration of President Donald Trump may follow past precedent on the issue. A USDA spokesman said in a statement that the agency doesn’t want to “pick winners and losers” in the food marketplace or judge “the relative benefits of individual food products.”
In 2016, the USDA — under former Democratic President Barack Obama — rejected Maine’s last attempt to ban these purchases under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Benefits are paid for by the federal government, which splits administrative costs with states.
In response, LePage threatened to stop administering SNAP, but he never followed through. That year, Trump, a Republican who was endorsed by LePage, won the presidency and in February, Maine submitted another waiver request to the more friendly administration.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation placed Maine’s adult obesity rate at 26th among states in 2016 at 30 percent, but LePage has cited its near-tripling since 1990 as a key reason for the proposed change, which has never been granted to any state or city.
The issue doesn’t easily break down along party lines in Maine. Most Republicans and some Democrats agree with LePage’s health arguments, but other Democrats and anti-poverty advocates have said it’s not an effective solution to the obesity issue and that it stigmatizes people who rely on SNAP to augment their income for food purchases.
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