LePage threatens to end state control of food stamp program in Maine

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is turning his attention to eradicating the use of … ethanol?

On Monday, the governor ordered state agencies to study health risks to humans from the combustion of ethanol in gasoline as well as the effect on emissions when the percentage of ethanol in gasoline is increased. The governor also established a “purchasing preference” for state agencies for gasoline that includes 5 percent or less of ethanol.

Ethanol, which is made from corn or sugarcane, is the same kind of alcohol that’s in your cocktail. It’s probably also in your gas tank. (I know, I know. For some of you that constitutes alcohol abuse.)

The U.S. and Brazil lead the world when it comes to mixing ethanol with gasoline. The use of ethanol — first required by Congress in the 2005 Energy Policy Act — was started as a way to reduce dependence on oil and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007, Maine banned the use of MtBE, another gasoline additive, over pollution and public health risk concerns and replaced it with ethanol. New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island have enacted similar bans on MtBE.

In an executive order, LePage ordered the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Environmental Protection to produce a report on ethanol to him by Jan. 1, 2017. It’s unclear how the study will be funded or what LePage intends to do with the results.

The fight against ethanol in Maine isn’t new. In 2013, a group of anti-ethanol bills went through the Legislature with varying degrees of success. One of the enacted bills, which received strong Republican support and was signed by LePage, would ban the use of ethanol in gasoline if at least 10 states or any number of states with a total population of 30 million people did the same. That hasn’t happened yet. The Legislature also passed a bill that prohibited the sale of gasoline in Maine that contains more than 10 percent ethanol.

Why? The LePage administration has said it’s in response to constituents and lawmakers.

This would be a great opportunity for a soundtrack but all the “gasoline” songs I know have adult content and this is a family friendly blog. Sort of. What I mean by “sort of” is that here’s a pro-alcohol song from the great Mojo Nixon that has a few naughty words in it. — Christopher Cousins

LePage threatens to end food stamp program in Maine

Gov. Paul LePage has written to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to say that if the USDA won’t allow Maine to restrict food stamps from being used to purchase sugary foods and drinks, he’ll do it anyway or withdraw the state from administering the food stamp program altogether.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett discussed the letter today during a radio appearance on WVOM.

UPDATE (12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 21): Here’s LePage’s letter to Vilsack. Also, the headline of this blog has been updated based on a request from the administration, who said they don’t propose eliminating the food stamp program but would let it be administered by the federal government.

“It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” wrote LePage, according to a reading of the letter on the radio. “Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reforms unilaterally or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether.”

According to Bennett, the state asked the federal government for a waiver so it could create a pilot program that wouldn’t allow food stamps, which are paid for by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to be used for the purchase of “junk food.” That waiver request was denied, she said.

“We have a responsibility; these are taxpayer dollars,” said Bennett. “We need to ensure that the most healthy foods are being purchased with food stamps.”

The LePage administration requested permission to ban junk food purchases with food stamps in November 2015. That was after the Maine Legislature rejected LePage proposals to take that step in 2013 and 2015. Approximately 200,000 Mainers receive food stamps, down from a high of more than 250,000 in 2012.

Bennett argued that the federal government sends mixed messages when it comes to nutrition and the use of food stamps. On one hand, the Obama administration has long called for healthier public school menus and the USDA has offered grants aimed at improving the purchase of fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, federal rules don’t allow states to restrict what is purchased with food stamps.

Bennett acknowledged that LePage’s threat to end Maine’s administration of the program is an extreme position.

“The governor understands what he needs to do to get the federal government’s attention and he is drawing attention to this issue,” she said. “It’s important for the folks who are using the benefits to make good choices. … He’s asking for a compromise and we think it’s a reasonable compromise.”

To date, no state has been allowed to restrict the purchase of junk food with food stamps. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

A magical lesson from the 5-year-old

My five-year-old has adopted a new way of protesting things that he doesn’t want to do. Just in the past few days:

“Lucas, please get dressed.” “Sorcery!” he yelled.

“Lucas, we have to brush your hair. It’s swooshy.” “Sorcery!”

“Lucas, it’s time to grab your back pack and get clipped into the car so I can take you to day care.” “This is sorcery!” he said as he stomped out of the house this morning, hair all swooshy.

I don’t know where he picked up that word but I’m working on a response. In the past I’ve used “because I’m the dad,” but that’s a little arbitrary and I like to give my kids reasons behind my edicts. But maybe he’s on to something.

“Daddy, why do I have to try broccoli?”

“Because SORCERY! Now eat it!” 

Maybe I’ll need a wand for this? — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.