03/10/2016 02:25 PM EST
**Augusta** – Governor Paul R. LePage, for the third time, will introduce legislation to prioritize employment over welfare entitlement by aligning Maine’s welfare programs with federal law. From 2007 through 2013, Maine’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) failed to meet the federal work participation rates causing the state to face nearly $29 million in federal fines. Members of the Legislature have not only ignored the issue, they have protected the very exemptions in Maine law that have discouraged employment and this Administration’s goals of helping people move from poverty to prosperity.
“The Legislature once again has the chance to correct a situation that is detrimental to both the people on the program and the Maine taxpayers. It is time to hold accountable those who refuse to work because of baseless excuses,” said Governor Paul LePage. “We must restore taxpayers’ faith in the integrity of the system and ensure it is helping those who truly need it in a way that supports them becoming self-sufficient. More importantly, we could fix the problem that led to the $29 million in fines.”
“This legislation and the reforms proposed are critical to further advancing our efforts to incentivize work in the best interests of those in need of temporary assistance, rather than the long-held views by democrats that these individuals are incapable of helping themselves and therefore should be protected from the employment requirements that are core to the federal law.,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “Twice democrats in the legislature have denied this Administration’s attempts to correct the issue. The people we are trying to help get back to work and the $29 million in looming federal penalties can no longer be ignored. We must align our program to the federal guidelines and stop allowing people to opt-out of their required work so easily.”
LD1631 will use a two-prong approach to address the issue. First, it will eliminate the requirement for blanket “good cause” exemptions for TANF recipients not complying with the work requirements. The Department will still have the ability to grant good cause in certain circumstances that truly prevent the recipient from completing work requirements, such as in cases involving victims of domestic violence. In addition, the Department will have more flexibility to impose a sanction more quickly in cases where it is appropriate to do so. Under the current process, administrative hurdles delay sanctions and allow noncompliant recipients to receive TANF benefits for additional months. Not only does this produce a barrier to independence, it also contributes to the state not meeting its work participation rate. If a TANF recipient is not working, it counts against the State’s rate because Maine’s “good cause exemptions” are much more broad than they should be.
Secondly, the legislation will create a fund to pay fines imposed on the State by the Federal Government due to Maine’s failure to comply with Federal ASPIRE-TANF program requirements.
In August, the Department received a letter from the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) informing the state that it would need to pay the first penalty of the $29 million currently assessed. The 2007 penalty amount totaled $1.16 million and will need to be paid with state funds. The letter demonstrates the real financial liability associated with past failures to make sure recipients were working. It’s a mistake that Maine cannot continue to repeat.