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May 20, 2017 4:03 PM

Feds ask Maine once again for details on food stamp ban

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Gov. Paul LePage is hoping a new presidential administration will listen to his proposal of no longer allowing Maine residents to use food stamps on sugary sodas and candy.

But federal officials have yet again requested the Republican governor provide them with more information on why he's suggesting the ban.

Last summer, LePage threatened to cease the state's food stamp program altogether after the United States Department of Agriculture first raised questions about cost estimates and evaluations on the ban's impact. LePage said he was not "naive enough to think" federal officials would ever be satisfied, and the state didn't respond.

Earlier this year, LePage sent yet another request to the USDA requesting the ban, after his administration expressed optimism that Republican President Donald Trump would be more receptive.

But in an April letter, the USDA said it's still lacking key details from Maine.

This time, the state will provide the information.

"We are in the process of responding to the USDA," said Mary Mayhew, Maine Department of Health and Human Services commissioner.

She said the state will look at the "impact on purchasing habits related to soda and candy and also health outcomes."

Critics have said the governor's plan wouldn't change poor people's eating habits.

In 2011, former Democratic President Barack Obama's administration rejected then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's soda ban for food stamp recipients.

Maine's renewed request also asks to divert federal funds away from nutrition education — which amounted to $4.3 million last fiscal year — and instead spend that money on studying the ban and on agencies that distribute healthy foods.

The USDA asked for more details on that plan as well.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has signaled support for overhauling the more than $70 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which administers food stamps to 44 million recipients.

Perdue said he's already met with LePage, but didn't say how he would rule on the issue.

Perdue said LePage "has some very creative programs that we're exploring."

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