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.
The LePage Administration has sent out a media advisory announcing that the Governor, along with Commissioner Mayhew, Senate President Thibodeau, and House Republican Leader Fredette, will hold a news conference Monday April 6th at 1 pm where they will announce the Governor’s plan to reform welfare. The highlights of the plan will include preventing the use of TANF benefits for alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, and bail. The reforms will also prevent TANF recipiants from using their EBT cards out of State, require “job-ready” TANF applicants to look for three jobs before receiving benefits, and strengthen penalties for abuse of the system. All said, it would seem that they have another red flag to wave in front of the liberal bull. And bull we shall hear forthcoming from the liberals in a steady stream after the Governor makes his announcement.
Sometimes it’s just nice to get an “atta boy” when you’ve been working hard at something, isn’t it? Moments of affirmation have a way of easing the toil required for accomplishments to materialize. I’m sure it was a special moment for Governor LePage when Eliot Cutler issued a press release this past week just to show his approval of all the hard work the Governor has put in to reforming the welfare system.
Ah, the proverbial olive branch. Heartwarming, ‘tis true, but a little surprising, you say, to give up positive endorsements of your opponent’s policies while trying to oust him from the Blaine House? Yes, it does seem like a fruitless endeavor, or does it?
You see, Eliot Cutler, in the heat and desperation of battle, is reverting to one of the basic mantras of the Democrat Party, which is, “Make a mess of things, Blame the Republicans, Wait for the Republicans to clean it up, Then take the credit for it”. This should not be confused with the better-known Democrat mantra, “Lie like a thick shag rug.” So this week, in revealing his plan on reforming welfare, Cutler announced, in so many words, that everything Governor LePage has done, he will do, and everything Governor LePage wanted to do, he will do, and if you elect him as Governor he will take the credit for everything that Governor LePage has done to reform welfare, because, well, they’re just plain good ideas. And we wouldn’t want a Republican to get credit for that, would we?
He’s such a good little Democrat and stealthy, too! No, Eliot is no independent. He is the stealth Democrat to be sure.
Ohh, some of you are fuming! You are so cynical, you Maine Conservative Voice….guy. Well, let’s take a closer look at Eliot Cutler’s “Plan”. Oh, you wonder what Mike Michaud’s plan is? Well…he…doesn’t have….one. He’s been too distracted asking the CBO for ways to slash veterans health benefits and too confused wondering whether it’s Nancy Pelosi or John Martin who’s supposed to tell him what to say on this issue.
So here is some of the LePage/Cutler welfare reform plan, or the “What He Said” Plan.
Prohibit Purchases of Alcohol, Tobacco, Lottery Tickets, and Posting Bail. Yes, Governor LePage introduced this first (LD 1822), but Democrats opposed it. Governor LePage also prohibited the use of EBT cards at liquor stores, gambling facilities, and adult venues. He’s such a grumpy killjoy!
Promote a Tiered Reduction in Welfare. If this sounds familiar, you are right. Paul LePage campaigned on this his first time around. Eliot heard so much of it on the campaign trail; it must have grown on him. This was one major point of the Governor’s campaign and was also introduced as bills by two Republicans, Ken Fredette and Mel Newendyke. The Democrats killed both bills.
TurboCharge TANF Assessments. The Lepage Administration has already been issuing assessments to TANF, moving recipients into the workforce, much to the chagrin of Democrats.
Make Education Pay. LePage made Maine the 44th State to put a 5-year cap on TANF. This cut the TANF rolls in half and a portion of the savings was used to increase funding for the Departments of Labor and Education.
Link Public Assistance to Family Responsibility. In 2011, Republican lawmakers and the Governor imposed strict sanctions for rule violations. This included loss of adult benefits for a first offense, and full family sanction for a second. Recently, the Governor has required that able-bodied recipients volunteer, work, or go to school as a condition for benefits, as well as drug testing.
Improve Accountability at DHHS. The Governor has already cut unnecessary staff positions and hired eight new welfare fraud investigators. He has implemented a new policy that insures private insurance is used before Medicaid, consolidated offices within the Department, and made welfare fraud a Class D crime. Maine now conforms to the Federal law in suspension of payments to MaineCare providers who commit fraud, and the list goes on.
Recent polling shows that an overwhelming number of Maine residents are demanding welfare reform, which is probably the reason for Eliot Cutler’s “Plan”. While he must be commended for copying and pasting many of the Governor’s ideas, he is a little late to the party. Perhaps, we’d better let the man who is already fixing the problem continue his work, not a Johnny Come Lately.