Commentary

Welfare Funds Should Stay in Maine

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Maine needs to enact common sense reforms of its welfare system. The public funds we devote to lifting our struggling neighbors out of poverty must be used appropriately to reach the end results we seek.

Gov. Paul LePage and his Department of Health and Human Services under Commissioner Mary Mayhew have taken many steps in the right direction, but there’s more the Maine Legislature can do to stop unfettered spending that disincentivizes work, breeds vulnerability and harms Maine taxpayers.

Maine welfare dollars have been spent in every single state, as well as the Virgin Islands and Guam. Between 2011 and 2015, Maine taxpayers foot the bill for $65 million in out of state welfare spending. Since 2011, Maine welfare recipients have spent $3.7 million in Florida, $5.2 million in Massachusetts, and over $1 million in New York and Connecticut.

Additionally, a Sun Journal report published in 2014 found that 365,000 electronic benefit transfer (EBT) transactions were made outside of Maine in 2013 alone, totaling $13.9 million in out of state spending by EBT beneficiaries. The report also highlighted information from law enforcement officials who confirmed some welfare recipients trade their EBT cards and PIN numbers to drug dealers, saying this transaction happens “more often than you think.”

A common sense solution to stop unfettered spending has come from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, who earlier this session offered LD 886, a law that would require Maine welfare benefits be used in our state.

Past testimony offered by the Maine DHHS for similar welfare reform bills has shown that a number of Maine welfare recipients are consistently spending their funds outside of Maine, some for upwards of a year.

“It’s time to ensure that our benefits are going to support needy Maine families, not those who can afford to go on vacations, or even worse, aren’t actually residents of Maine,” Sen. Brakey said in a press release. “Allowing this behavior to continue puts the resource at risk for Mainers who properly use and truly need the safety net.”

Liberals call common sense reforms conservative efforts to “demonize the poor,” but they have long been on the wrong side of this important issue for Maine taxpayers, and they’re paying for it at the ballot box as LePage, Brakey and other conservatives intensify their crackdown on the system.

Few conservatives have quarrels with welfare itself. However, the system is supposed to provide soft-landing space for Mainers experiencing employment troubles, and then prop them back on their feet. It’s not meant to be abused by recipients who think it is okay to spend public funds on lavish vacations, or to be traded to drug dealers so the original recipients can get their fix.

Democrats who disregard these statistics and ignore the impact of irresponsible welfare spending are doing a tremendous disservice to both welfare recipients and the hardworking Mainers that fund the system. Regulating funds to be spent only in Maine is an important step in reducing this abuse and ending cycles of generational poverty that have plagued some Maine families for decades.

“We in Augusta need to take a serious look at this program to ensure that it’s living up to its mission, which is to enable impoverished Maine families to climb out of poverty,” Sen. Brakey said.

A public hearing for LD 886 is scheduled for Thursday, April 27 at 1 p.m. before the Health and Human Services Committee.

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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