The following is a speech prepared by Rep. Sharri MacDonald (R-Old Orchard Beach) to be given on the floor of the Maine House on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 in support of a compromise amendment she introduced to salvage her bill, L.D. 1822, which would prohibit the use of TANF benefits for alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and posting bail. Democratic majority lawmakers attempted to move the bill before the amendment was prepared and, when the amendment was before the House, moved to prevent a discussion of it. Rep. MacDonald never got a chance to give this simple speech explaining her compromise welfare reform proposal, even though several Democrats rose in her defense to allow her proposal to be heard.
My amendment takes the Senate amendment passed last night and modifies it slightly. This amendment is offered in the spirit of compromise. Compromise means looking at all sides.
The first change is two words: “may not.” And this is my explanation: There is some ambiguity to the word “may” and in many instances the use of “may” has led to costly court cases and legal interpretation questions whether “may” really means “shall.”
The word “shall” did not pass muster with the revisor’s office, so “may not” has been changed to “prohibited from.” This amendment states that a TANF recipient is prohibited from purchasing tobacco, liquor, lottery, gambling, and bail with their TANF benefits. It also prohibits retailers from selling tobacco, lottery, or liquor.
Secondly, the highly publicized and contentious penalties that were added to the bill have been modified. My amendment changed the penalties to the following:
- 1st offense: 15-day suspension of benefits
- 2nd offense: up to 1-year suspension
- 3rd offense: up to 3 years suspension
- Any offense thereafter is permanent suspension of benefits for life.
Remember, there is a significant appeals process with the Department for any of the services they perform, so even lifetime suspension can be overturned through the appeals process.
The reason why the penalties were changed is because of the required agreement put in by [the Senate], #12, page 2, line 17, which reads:
“A recipient of TANF benefits shall enter into an agreement with a representative of the Department that the recipient agrees not to expend TANF benefits in violation of subsection 11 and agrees that a violation will result in the penalties specified in subsection 11, paragraph B.”
This signed agreement between the beneficiary and the Department is smart and immediately lets the beneficiary know the purchase of tobacco, liquor, gambling, or bail is not allowed right up front when they sign up for benefits.
It also provides an opportunity for the Department to have frank discussions with the TANF beneficiary about what the benefits are to be used for. This is fantastic customer service that should put an end to the questions of what is allowed and what is not.
So this amendment takes the crux of the other body’s amendment and tweaks it slightly in the spirit of compromise. I urge you to support this amendment and let us move forward in a positive manner with this small step toward welfare reform.