It's rare that one reads about an entitlement program that's contracting so reports that the number of people receiving food stamps in the state of Maine has plummeted to below 200,000 is attracting attention. This is a six-year low for the state.

How did this happen?

Maine's Governor Paul LePage has been tightening the eligibility requirements for receiving food stamps. Needless to say, some critics act as if the governor is trying to starve people, but the requirements are sensible, if you believe safety net programs are for people in dire need and not designed to tide able-bodied folks with assets over a transition period.

One of LePage's supposedly draconian requirements: able-bodied food stamp recipients must complete certain work requirements. In announcing the change last year, LePage said:

“We must continue to do all that we can to eliminate generational poverty and get people back to work,” LePage said in a statement announcing the change, which would take effect Oct. 1.

“We must protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient.”

My bolding. Of course, if you watched the Democratic presidential debate earlier this week, you know the idea of husbanding safety-net resources for the genuinely needy is anathema to the party that believes it can expand entitlement programs without regard to costs.

The governor is seeking to be even crueler. Here is a snippet from a September news report:

The LePage administration on Wednesday announced a new “asset test” that would make people ineligible for food stamps if they have more than $5,000 in the bank or own certain other items worth more than that amount, such as a snowmobile, boat, motorcycle or ATV. Critics of the rule change say the asset test creates a disincentive for low-income people to save money.

The new rule – which will be the subject of a public hearing Oct. 6 in Augusta – would apply only to households with no children. About 225,000 Mainers receive food stamps, and some 8,600 of them would be affected by the rule, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The rule would exempt equity in a home and a primary vehicle.

We have to be wary of government programs that create a disincentive to beneficial behavior. For example, welfare requirements have had a profoundly bad effect on family structures in the U.S. by creating a disincentive for women to marry the fathers of their children. However, it is important that people do what they can to take care of themselves even before saving money.

In fact, the family that is self-sufficient, even if that means selling the motorcycle to buy food, is more likely to develop habits that lead to saving and other forms of productive behavior.

Here's a sob story:

Jason Worcester, 30, said Wednesday he has used food stamps off and on over the years when he was between jobs. He described the proposed policy as “total class warfare.”

An Army veteran, the Washington County native has worked on lobster boats and in construction and veterinary medicine.

“I was on (food stamps) up until a couple of months ago,” Worcester said, standing with friends in Tommy’s Park in Portland. Originally from Columbia Falls in Washington County, Worcester said he is living out of his car in Portland as he works a construction job that he got through MaineWorks.

The idea of a $5,000 asset test is “ridiculous,” he said.

“Five thousand dollars is not much,” he said. “All my money goes to child support and divorce costs and fixing my car. You know, life costs.”

I'm sorry Mr. Worcester is living in his car, but I still don't see why the taxpayer should pay for his food. If we can be shown instances of real need, sure, the requirements are too tough. But until then kudos to Governor LePage.

As Governor LePage says, "Welfare is a last resort, not a way of life.”

Programs such as Governor LePage's actually preserve the program for those who are truly on the edge.

Is that really so cruel?

Hat Tip: Hot Air