Ten years ago, I left private life to help my fellow Mainers through public service, first as state treasurer and then serving in Congress. In that positive spirit of helping the less fortunate, I’d like to offer two suggestions to our public officials here in Maine: prioritize Mainers over non-citizens, and require work from able-bodied adult welfare recipients.
State government should refocus its energy and our limited tax dollars on caring for Mainers first. Maine is not as well off as most other states. Although the economy is doing well, the wages of most Maine workers are lower than those earned in nearby states. Hence, we have less tax revenue to help residents who are spread over one of the largest state geographies in the eastern United States.
I don’t think it’s fair to prioritize non-citizens over Mainers with our limited public assistance dollars. Veterans who fought for our freedoms are living on the street. Seniors with disabilities aren’t receiving adequate care because nursing homes are underfunded or have closed.
Not long ago, a young woman told a WGME reporter she was living in a friend’s shack in the woods because she couldn’t get off the waitlist for housing assistance. It’s common sense to move struggling Mainers off waitlists before committing services to non-citizens.
With these glaring needs here at home, Gov. Janet Mills, the Democratic majority in Augusta, Portland city officials and others have publicly invited an unlimited number of non-citizens to Maine with promises of housing, food, clothing, transportation and health care from private donors, the city and Maine taxpayers.
During the past six months, hundreds of individuals from the Congo and Angola crossed our southern border with Mexico, some illegally, and many asked to be bused to Maine. In another WGME interview, one of these individuals said his group came to Maine because they heard there would be housing. It’s not fair to push Mainers further down waitlists in favor of non-citizens who entered the country illegally.
On Dec. 16, Mills doubled down by writing to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking to continue sending refugees to Maine, in part to fill vacant jobs. My heart goes out to those wanting to come to America for better lives, but I believe it’s the job of our public officials to always put Mainers first, including for available jobs.
My second suggestion is to pass laws and implement rules that help move individuals from government dependence and poverty toward the dignity of independence, work and more promising futures. Provide encouragement and incentives to work, perform community service or job training for those without disabilities, children or other dependents at home.
Don’t give up on anyone. Make sure they know we’re all behind them as long as they help themselves. Reward education, job training and employment — not excuses to stay home or do nothing.
In Congress, I advocated for common sense work requirements. To apply for food stamps, the 2018 farm bill passed by the House required able-bodied adults who were not pregnant, disabled or caring for young children or other dependents to work, job train or do community service at least 20 hours per week. Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate removed those helpful incentives.
But here’s some good news: The Trump administration is trying to implement these same requirements to receive food stamps through agency rulemaking.
Welfare programs should be designed to help people get back on their feet when they fall on hard times, like getting laid off or suddenly caring for elderly parents. They shouldn’t be used as lifelong sources of subsistence, which only trap recipients in poverty.
Give a neighbor a fish and they enjoy one meal. Teach them how to fish and they eat for a lifetime. Government programs should compassionately teach the less fortunate how to fish.
The LePage administration was successful in saving precious taxpayer dollars for those who truly cannot care for themselves, while helping those who could work into employment and better lives. Thousands of fellow Mainers escaped poverty though the dignity of a job, and there are plenty out there.
Unfortunately, since the 2018 elections, Augusta has reversed this win-win policy in favor of more dependency and poverty. Wouldn’t it be better if more people were able to drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle than depend on how much is collected?
Everyone is special. Let’s not give up on anyone.
Bruce Poliquin is the former U.S. representative for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.