CONTRIBUTORS

Maine’s welfare system is broken. Let’s fix it.

Posted April 11, 2016, at 10:34 a.m.

As Mainers, we all want pretty much the same things for ourselves and our families. We want a stable job to pay the bills. We want to know that, as long as we work hard, we can give our kids the opportunities they need to live comfortably and reach their potential.

As a state representative, I hear from my constituents in Brewer. They say they’re frustrated by an economy that doesn’t seem to be improving like they’ve been told it is, and they see their tax dollars going to welfare programs that don’t seem to work while they themselves are struggling to get by.

The same old approach isn’t working for taxpayers and it isn’t working for the people who need help. It’s time to take a hard look at the way we’ve been doing things. Maine’s welfare system is broken.

These policies have failed to lift people out of poverty and help Mainers who are truly in need succeed. For too many of our neighbors, it’s harder and harder to achieve economic stability. Too many Mainers can’t find work, and when there is work, the wages are lower and the hours it takes to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead are longer.

More children are living in poverty. Over the past five years, the rate of Maine kids living in extreme poverty has increased by 50 percent. During that same period, single-parent families in poverty increased by 12 percent.

That’s why I’m working with my colleagues in the Legislature to change our approach. Mainers want accountability, efficiency and programs that are effective in moving welfare recipients into stable employment so that they can be independent. It will take big changes, but we can create a better system.

Democrats have a plan to make sure welfare programs are doing a better job of helping the people who truly need them while also putting safeguards in place against fraud and abuse.

Our “Welfare That Works” policies focus on good, stable jobs as the best pathway off welfare and to independence. Right now, we rely on a one-size-fits-all program instead of targeting resources in a way that gives recipients the best chance at success.

Instead of expecting the same strategies to work for everyone, our new approach will focus on individual, targeted services. It requires recipients to work, helps with job placement and provides a transitional jobs program to promote on-the-job skills and experience for those who are struggling to find work. It also focuses on long-term stability and success by providing education and job training.

We’ll also put new policies in place to stop fraud and abuse within our welfare programs before they happen. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to worry that these programs are going to tobacco, alcohol or other inappropriate uses instead of basic necessities like food and heat as intended.

One important way to do this is to rethink the way we provide benefits. We can make these programs less vulnerable to abuse by replacing hard-to-monitor cash benefits with assistance that goes directly to housing. This will ensure benefits are being used to achieve stable housing, which is one of the most important ingredients to allow families to build better lives.

To further prevent inappropriate use of benefits, we will put reasonable restrictions on how cash assistance can be used and create a point-of-sale system to block the purchase of banned items with EBT cards.

To make sure these efforts pay off, we’ll establish benchmarks and goals to hold the programs accountable. And we’ll establish a Citizens Oversight Board so that Maine people have a way to make sure welfare programs are transparent and delivering real results.

Our plan does all this without asking for any additional funds to be put into the system.

That’s what these programs should be — efficient and effective. We all want to make sure Mainers who have fallen on hard times can get back on their feet and take care of themselves. We want parents to have the tools to keep their kids out of poverty. We can achieve that — and make better use of taxpayer dollars at the same time. Let’s get to work.

Rep. Arthur “Archie” Verow is serving his second term in the Maine House. He is a member of the Transportation Committee and represents the majority of Brewer.

 

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