Sue Sapiel, customer service representative at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family Independence, prints out a new EBT card that includes a photo, in this April 28, 2014, file photo.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will no longer require photo identification on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards for people receiving supplemental food assistance, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday.

The new change is effective immediately, ending a policy that “threatens eligible Mainers’ access to assistance,” the department said in a Friday release. Any person or family receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — traditionally called food stamps — is eligible for an EBT card.

DHHS called the need for a photo EBT card an “ineffective policy,” as did Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who said the change “will make it easier for people to obtain a card and get the benefits they need to help them through hard times.” Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said it would help “reduce state costs and burden.”

The change reverses a policy adopted in 2014 under former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, allowing cardholders to choose whether to put their driver’s license photo on their EBT card.

Under the administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the federal government raised concerns about the program when it was rolled out and urged a delay. Compliance issues persisted into 2018 under the administration of President Donald Trump, a Republican.

Because EBT cards are often issued to households rather than individuals, the card photo might not always match the person using it to make a purchase. It is illegal to deny a SNAP transaction if the photo ID does not match the person presenting the card, but some have still been denied grocery purchases as a result.

At the time of the rollout, Mary Mayhew, LePage’s first DHHS commissioner, said it would “ strengthen the integrity of our public assistance programs.” Though a common form of SNAP fraud is trafficking — when recipients sell a card balance to an ineligible party — there is little to no evidence showing the use of photo EBT cards decreases fraud, a 2015 Urban Institute study found. A 2018 study by the Congressional Research Service that reviewed state photo ID policies found “little to no effect on recipient trafficking.”

As of December, 19,140 EBT cards in Maine — or roughly 20 percent of SNAP recipients — had photos. Those cards are still valid, but there will be no future option to request a photo EBT card, the department said.

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