Commentary

Posik: Governor Leads the Way on Welfare Reform

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Governor LePage promised the people of Maine while campaigning for both of his gubernatorial elections that he would do his best to resolve the abuse of Maine’s welfare programs and ensure that no tax dollars earned by the hard-working people of Maine are wasted in our over-saturated welfare state. He did this with no-brainer reforms that improved the effectiveness and efficiency of our system.

These changes took place in 2011 when LePage and his administration began the welfare reformation process in Maine. A resolution between LePage and the Legislature that year allowed the state to begin drug testing for those with felony drug convictions before receiving welfare benefits. Those who failed had the option to enter treatment to get help with their addiction, or lose the possibility of receiving benefits.

The 2011 resolution was not necessary, but was a crucial step in beginning the process for future reforms.

The governor continues to keep his promise to the people of Maine with his proposal of L.D. 1407, a bill that would allow Maine to deny Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and food stamp benefits to those with felony drug charges without conducting a drug test for the potential recipient. It would also require TANF applicants to take a questionnaire known as the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI), as a measure to screen them for drug abuse problems.

The questionnaire is assumed to have 97 percent accuracy in determining whether or not an applicant has a drug abuse problem. Under LePage’s bill, those who take the questionnaire and score within the range that considers them a drug abuser will need to take and pass a drug test before receiving benefits.

While the resolution in 2011 seems more ideal in providing treatment for those who need help overcoming their addiction, federal law outlaws convicted drug felons from receiving TANF and food stamp benefits. It was a positive ground-level base to build upon with future legislation, like L.D. 1407. This bill is the next step in the reformation process, after TANF and food stamp recipients have had four years to receive benefits and overcome their health problems. LePage’s new proposal realigns Maine’s system with federal law and prevents the abuse and over-saturation that Mainers want stopped.

Democrats have turned a blind-eye to abuse and over-saturation for too long, but the people of Maine spoke when Governor LePage earned reelection. His efforts in welfare reform have appeased his voters, and are common sense steps to reduce government dependency and generational poverty.

Working Mainers struggle enough already. They shouldn’t be funding those who abuse our welfare system by making no effort to overcome their drug abuse or seek employment. The state offered convicted drug felons a chance to reconcile with their pasts, move in a direction that improves their overall health, and alleviate the saturation of our system in 2011. We catered to the needs of these people and have given them the opportunity to change. Now it’s time to take the next step forward.

LePage and his administration are adamant that this is the route to take to take to end dependency and poverty issues that have plagued our state for decades.

“The department believes that adoption of this bill will serve the purpose of sending a message of condemnation of drug felonies (and) the importance of treatment to overcome addiction, and will provide assurance to the taxpayers of the state of Maine that their hard-earned money will not reward reprehensible personal behavior,” said Holly Lusk, a health policy adviser for Governor LePage.

LePage, Lusk, and the rest of his administration are absolutely correct. Taxpayers in Maine shouldn’t be rewarding reprehensible personal behavior. Those who are personally responsible for their own actions shouldn’t be tasked with supporting those who have made and continue to make decisions that jeopardize the health and safety of themselves and their families.

While the bill will be challenged by Democrats, its contents and message are steering welfare reform in Maine in the right direction.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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