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Maine lawmakers seek to limit cash welfare benefit withdrawals

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Sue Sapiel, customer service representative at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family Independence, prints out a new EBT card that includes a photo on April 28, 2014.

LEWISTON, Maine — A Lewiston Democrat is offering a bill that would limit the amount of cash welfare benefits recipients could withdraw on state-issued electronic benefit transfer cards to 25 percent of their monthly benefit amount.

The bill, LD 1097, proposed by Sen. Nate Libby, also would restrict the use of Maine-issued EBT cards to Maine and New Hampshire and would prohibit using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for the purchase of tobacco, liquor, lottery tickets, bail, firearms, vacations, tattoos and adult entertainment.

Libby said he wanted to limit the cash withdrawal to help ensure welfare benefits were not being spent on prohibited goods and services such as those listed above.

Libby’s bill would also authorize the hiring of five additional fraud investigators in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Presenting his bill Tuesday to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, Libby said he knew some advocates for the poor would oppose the bill, but he believed it was in line with what a majority of Mainers support.

“The legislation I’m presenting seeks to strike the right balance between preserving assistance when our neighbors or our families fall on hard times, and ensuring the safety net is transparent and accountable,” Libby told the committee. “While I expect that this legislation will be opposed by social-service advocates and welfare-reform advocates alike, sometimes you know you’re on to something when opposing sides are equally unhappy.”

Libby’s presentation came just hours after Republican Gov. Paul LePage unveiled legislation seeking to address the issue of welfare recipients losing Temporary Assistance to Needy Family benefits if they make marginally more than the eligibility standards.

Also before the committee Tuesday were a host of other welfare reform bills offered by both Republicans and Democrats.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, offered legislation that would limit the amount of cash TANF recipients could withdraw to 15 percent of their monthly benefit amount.

Thibodeau’s bill also would restrict the use of EBT cards outside Maine and require applicants for TANF benefits to demonstrate they were looking for work and had filled out at least one job application.

“I think we are all aware of the fact that TANF benefits are temporary — for needy families — and are meant to get you back to work,” Thibodeau said.

 



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