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Welfare abuse is real

The reality is that we lack any systematic evidence that such “misuse” is widespread.” – Robert W. Glover, University of Maine

“The issue has been overblown.” – Robin Merrill, Maine Equal Justice Partners

Welfare is the perennial subject of Maine politics.

Most every reasonable Mainer agrees that a humane and just society must provide some basic social safety net. However, there is broad disagreement over how the state ought to implement and administer Maine’s diverse welfare programs. Conservatives believe Maine is a welfare state with too many people abusing the system, and that hardworking taxpayers should not buy bread for those who refuse to work. Progressives argue that welfare abuse – if such a thing exists – is negligible.

For many years, discussions of welfare abuse have relied upon anecdotes – every Mainer knows a few: the young man who uses welfare to buy soda and candy before using cash to buy cigarettes and beer, the woman who draws a modest income cleaning houses “under the table” but continues to draw welfare, or the shop owner who conspires with welfare recipients to improperly spend benefits. Many have borne witness to suspect EBT card transactions or suspected their neighbors of not truly needing welfare. But the hard data – definitive proof of systemic welfare abuse, misuse and fraud – has thus far been missing.

Now, for the very first time, the people of Maine can see beyond the anecdotes; the people of Maine can see themselves how welfare is being used and abused.

The Maine Wire has obtained, through a Freedom of Access Act request, a comprehensive set of data pertaining to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash welfare program. The data includes more than one million individual transactions involving welfare cash. Analysis of this data reveals a stunning fact: the scale of welfare abuse in Maine is mindboggling. Over the next few weeks, The Maine Wire will present the results of our investigation into welfare abuse.

Steve Robinson
Maine Wire, Editor
SERobinson@themainewire.com

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