The Bangor Daily News in its editorial view continues to make false assumptions about the sincerity of Republican legislators and Gov. Paul LePage when it comes to welfare reform.
From the beginning of his administration, LePage has been working to reduce fraud, waste and abuse in taxpayer-funded welfare programs to ensure that our limited resources go to those who truly need help.
The governor believes welfare dollars that are meant for Maine’s neediest children should not be spent on alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets, in casinos or on bail. Sadly, Democratic legislators voted against a measure that would prohibit such abuse. This is not your father’s Democratic Party. Liberal politicians are severely out of touch with Maine people on this important issue.
The governor also believes that Maine EBT cards should not be used out of state. Data that his administration has uncovered show that more than 480 people have used EBT cards for 12 consecutive months out of state, in places such as Disney World and Las Vegas. It is clear that enforcement of this program must be strengthened. We must make it illegal to use EBT benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program out of state.
This paper continues to misrepresent those who actually receive welfare through TANF. More than 17,000 women, men and children in roughly 7,100 households receive TANF. Of those, just 150 have stated that they are victims of domestic violence, not 25 percent, as the BDN claims.
Like the governor, we believe that you can’t get a job unless you apply for one. Requiring those seeking welfare to apply for work before receiving taxpayer-funded benefits establishes from the start that TANF requires work and is meant to offer temporary support. The BDN points to lack of transportation or child care as somehow insurmountable barriers that prevent welfare recipients from ever working.
The federal government — and middle-class working Mainers who face these same challenges every day — do not see these as reasons for not working. Maine must play by the federal rules. If we do not, our state faces federal fines in the millions of dollars.
Only one out of every nine two-parent families in Maine meets the federal work-participation requirement, and Maine is facing $13 million in fines as a result. Because of this failure, we expect more federal sanctions for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013. This is essentially throwing away taxpayer money. We cannot tolerate that.
The BDN first says more should be done to help welfare recipients return to work, then agrees the work that is underway to return people to work as quickly as possible is “the right direction.” The Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Department of Labor, and other regional and local partners have launched a coordinated and integrated approach to create pathways to employment. This work has been ongoing for more than a year and continues to progress.
In 2011, LePage and then-majority Republican lawmakers made Maine the 44th state to cap TANF benefits at five years, making them truly “temporary,” as the name of the program states. The administration then used savings from this reform to fund the job-placement efforts of DOL and DHHS.
Each TANF recipient now gets a vocational assessment and assistance in creating an individualized plan to return to meaningful, sustainable work as quickly as possible. The jobs are there: The CareerCenter’s Job Bank now has nearly 7,000 job openings, ranging from part-time work to highly skilled professional occupations. We are working effectively and collaboratively to match welfare recipients’ skills to these jobs.
Maine taxpayers deserve leadership that takes stewardship of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars very seriously. Mainers should be furious with state lawmakers who condone the purchase of alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets with taxpayer-funded welfare dollars that are designed to support the daily needs of our most vulnerable children. Mainers should be outraged that these legislators support the use of EBT cards out of state for months at a time and at vacation resorts where many working-class Maine families can only dream of going.
Unfortunately, this week, House Democrats used their majority to forbid even debating Republicans’ last attempt at compromise, and all four of the welfare reform bills will likely die as a result.
LePage is sincere when he says that he’s the first person to help someone who is truly in need — but he does not want to be taken advantage of. Mainers are generous and are always willing to spend their hard-earned money to lend a helping hand. But they don’t want to be taken advantage of, either.
Rep. James Gillway, R-Searsport, and Rep. Mike Nadeau, R-Fort Kent, are sponsors of two of Gov. Paul LePage’s welfare reform bills.