CONTRIBUTORS

With welfare abuse, every little bit counts: Here’s what else we could accomplish

Posted April 27, 2014, at 1:35 p.m.
Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn
Maine House Republicans
Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn

Ever since the Maine Department of Health and Human Services released data detailing the welfare abuse and potential fraud in our welfare system, some liberal pundits have downplayed the findings.

They say the $45 million in out-of-state spending with Maine EBT cards over the past three years is a drop in the bucket compared with the overall $1.3 billion spent in and out of Maine. They further point to the fact that “only” $4 million of that spending comes from state-funded cash benefits that can be controlled by the state Legislature and not Congress.

Welfare state apologists also are quick to dismiss several hundred thousand dollars spent at inappropriate places right here in Maine, such as liquor stores and smoke shops.

Before we say that $4 million in welfare cash spent out of state is not worth saving, let’s take a look at what that money could do for the hardworking Maine taxpayers who provide it.

That $4 million could provide special education for more than 230 autistic children each weekday for a year.

The average recipient of LIHEAP heating assistance receives $580 per winter and the program serves about 58,000 Maine households. The state-funded cash welfare benefits accessed out of state could expand the heating program for elderly and low-income Mainers to 6,900 additional households.

Or that $4 million in state-funded welfare spent out of state could install more than 14,000 new double-pane windows with weatherstripping.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather see our welfare benefits help needy Mainers keep warm right here in Maine than be spent on travel to Florida or Las Vegas.

You heard that right. Maine EBT cards have been used in all 50 states, including at Disney World, Las Vegas casinos, and even a resort in Puerto Rico. Republicans proposed a measure to prohibit the use of Maine cash welfare benefits out of state, but liberal politicians in the Legislature killed it.

Besides extravagant travel, there is plenty of abuse worth going after right here at home. Take, for example, the $740 in welfare cash withdrawn at a single tattoo parlor in southern Maine. The abuser of those benefits instead could have received 15 hours’ worth of business start-up coaching.

Or how about the $880 in welfare cash withdrawn at a single bowling alley in Maine? With that money, the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter could have housed more than 25 extra people for $32 per night.

A total of $145,000 worth of welfare cash was accessed at stores that sell exclusively or primarily liquor over the past three years. That money could fill 12 potholes in every single town in Maine.

As a former public schoolteacher, I thought about how we could help our schoolchildren with the money wasted in welfare abuse. I asked some of the teachers at Glenburn Elementary School, and they gave me plenty of ideas for how $145,000 could be spent, including a full-time librarian, an upgraded computer lab, laptops for students, and, of course, books. Excavating the playground for proper drainage seemed to be a particularly popular item, as recess is often held inside “due to playground conditions.”

Finally, the $2,080 spent at PT’s Show Club, a gentleman’s club in Portland, could provide LIHEAP to an elderly Mainer, fill 20 potholes in Glenburn, put up 10 people at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, and provide three weeks’ worth of special education for a severely autistic child.

Another welfare reform bill rejected by the left would make it illegal to use TANF benefits for tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, or to post bail. Another would require that job-ready welfare applicants apply for at least three jobs before receiving benefits. A fourth would eliminate loopholes to the work search requirement that welfare recipients must meet.

These are all important bills not just for preventing specific misuses of our tax dollars, but for breaking the cycle of intergenerational dependency that has overtaken our state and indeed our country. I was proud to stand with my fellow Republican lawmakers outside the State House recently and voice my support for these common-sense reforms.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned representing my friends and neighbors in state government, it’s that every little bit counts. That little extra bit of frugality can mean the difference between a good program getting cut or preserved.

Perhaps more important than rooting out the welfare abuse right in front of our eyes is preventing the welfare abuse that we don’t see. Deterrence can make a big difference in the way welfare recipients use their benefits. I think we could all agree Maine could use a change in that department.

Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, is a business owner and former teacher. She represents Glenburn, Kenduskeag, Levant and part of Corinth in the Maine House of Representatives.

 

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