CONTRIBUTORS

Don’t pull the rug out from under Maine’s working poor

Posted Feb. 06, 2013, at 11:13 a.m.

Amid the vitriolic atmosphere instilled by the state administration, it is further attempting to demoralize, scapegoat and marginalize Maine’s most vulnerable populations — single mothers, the elderly and those caring for a disabled family member — by balancing the state’s budget on their backs.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Paulette G. Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, seeks to reverse the targeting of those receiving state aid by proposing an extension of transitional benefits that enable these individuals and families to successfully return to Maine’s workforce. The extensions would be for much-needed support services, child care, reduced MaineCare premiums, transportation in order to work and extended supplemental nutritional assistance.

This bill correlates to the punitive time limits of five years imposed on TANF recipients, many of whom have now lost those benefits or will soon be losing them. The proposed bill seeks to assist those families that have successfully complied with the TANF guidelines by providing a bridge of support services to ensure a successful transition back into the workforce.

The proposed bill, LD 78, “An Act to Expand Transitional Assistance for Families,” would provide vital support to help these families assume more productivity. Services like child care, transportation, food stamps and affordable MaineCare premiums are essential in helping these families re-enter the workforce. These families — mostly single mothers, the elderly and families caring for a disabled family member — have proven they can succeed with these support services.

A homeless mother who has found employment, yet requires transportation and/or child care in order to “pull herself up by her own bootstraps,” cannot succeed in the workforce without these needed support services. By extending them, there is a better chance of success. Further punitive policies directed at an already vulnerable population only perpetuates the cycle of poverty in Maine, particularly for women with children.

Further reductions to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services budget and its weeding out of MaineCare recipients, as well as TANF recipients, will only shift the costs of supporting these families to the already overburdened local communities in which they live. Restrictions and tightened eligibility requirements to local general assistance offices have already impacted families as well as town budgets.

This shift in costs to the local level, in order to balance the state’s budget, is nothing short of a shell game. Local communities are not equipped to handle the financial burden of these support services. Vulnerable families are likely to fall through the cracks due to ineligibility for general assistance, their only resource, and cycle again into dependency, homelessness and become more of a financial burden on communities that can least afford the added expense.

By removing transitional benefits for these families, imminent failure is likely, resulting in more dependency, homelessness and a continuation of generational poverty. The transitional benefits must be maintained in order to ensure a successful transition out of poverty and a return to productivity and a skilled workforce.

LD 78 allows for this. The extension of benefits necessary for this successful transition, affordable health care premiums, transportation, child care and food stamps are all vital components of a support system that allows for success. I urge the current Legislature to pass LD 78 in an effort to move forward, not backward, in regards to welfare dependency.

Charlton Hudson is earning his masters of social work at the University of Maine. He resides in Northport.

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