A new state rule will cause Mainers who strike it rich with the lottery or at the gaming tables to lose their food stamp benefits.

Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would lose their benefits if they collect winnings of $5,000 or more in one calendar month. Qualifying funds would come from lottery or gambling winnings. If the prize remains with the individual, it will count as an asset that could disqualify the recipient from welfare because of the asset limit recently adopted by the Lepage administration.

The ruling is the latest move in a state effort to ensure taxpayers that welfare benefits are going to those who really need it. DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew says it allows taxpayers to have faith in the system:

"Just like when we limited the amount of assets someone could have while receiving welfare benefits, this change ensures individuals are not using the program when they don't need it."

In 2015, DHHS officials found that over the course of five years, there were nearly five thousand winning tickets of $1,000 or more that were cashed in by over 3,500 people who were receiving SNAP, TANF, or MaineCare (or some combination of those benefits) at the time that they won. The winners received a total of more than $22 million dollars in prizes while taking advantage of welfare benefits.

Earlier this year, Governor Lepage signed legislation that made it illegal for recipients to use welfare benefits to purchase liquor, lottery tickets, and tobacco.