My most heartfelt congratulations go out to all of the good men, women and children in Maine who receive welfare benefits. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to them because they just survived a major attack on their integrity, their honesty and their good intentions to be good Mainers, just like all the rest of us during these hard economic times.
After being accused of fraud, misuse and abuse of the welfare system, and after having months of their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash benefits purchases scrutinized by the governor’s team of investigators, it appears as a matter of fact that, of the purchases examined, 99.8 percent of them occurred properly and as intended, showing that they are not ungrateful to the people of the state of Maine for the help they receive during their time of need.
This governor and his administration have turned the “war on poverty” into a “war on the poor.” The poor are not the problem; they are just the easiest to blame. They cannot hire lawyers to fight their battles; they cannot hire lobbyists to bend the laws in their favor; and they cannot buy politicians to vote their way.
My heart goes out to them because, being one of six children raised by a single mother on welfare, I know as a matter of fact that there is no money to waste in a welfare budget. I know as a matter of fact that no matter how frugal one is, the month quite often lasts longer than the welfare benefit. And I know as a matter of fact that no child chooses to be born into a welfare situation. After all, who among us got to choose their mother and their father?
The real problem in this state is the loss over the last 20 years of 40,000 well-paying manufacturing jobs, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy. Those lost jobs resulted in $1.6 billion a year in lost wages and benefits. Those lost jobs and wages over time resulted in more workers and their families needing more government assistance. The lost wages, in turn, resulted in less tax revenue to provide for the increased need.
The first real visible sign of this inevitable shortfall came in the 2004-05 biennium, when the King administration left the Baldacci administration with a nearly $1 billion structural budget deficit. It has been tough times for the state budget ever since, and it is very unlikely that those lost jobs are coming back anytime soon.
Maybe instead of blaming the poor, we can learn from the poor. Maybe in trying to make things better for our state, we should ask of ourselves the same things that we ask of the poor. We ask that they be frugal, that they spend their money wisely, buying only what they need and buying only as much as they need. In this regard, the governor could lead a statewide energy conservation effort, asking all of us to be frugal with our energy dollars, buying only as much as we truly need. This effort would result in keeping more of our hard-earned money in our pockets and in our state longer, instead of sending billions of dollars to foreign countries and big corporations.
We ask that the poor not spend their money on cigarettes and alcohol, and we discuss measures that would prohibit them from using their benefits to purchase unhealthy food items such as soda and potato chips. We know that excessive consumption of these items leads to obesity, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, no matter how much or how little money one might have. The governor could lead a statewide healthy living effort that encourages all of us to eat healthy and be physically active, thereby reducing health care and insurance costs. Again, keeping more of our hard-earned money in our pockets and in our state longer.
In short, instead of focusing on the bad of the 0.2 percent, we should focus on the good of the 99.8 percent and ask of ourselves the same that we ask of them.
John E. Nale is an elder law attorney with offices in Waterville. He may be reached at 660-9191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.