In the course of his tenure, Gov. Paul LePage and conservatives in Augusta have implemented reforms to Maine’s welfare system that have led to the transition of thousands of Mainers on public assistance to what has become the state’s highest rate of employment. Liberals in Augusta, led by House Speaker Sara Gideon, are seeking to reverse this success.
Gideon’s “LIFT” bill, LD 1475, would explode Maine’s welfare rolls by offering new benefits immediately, and would create, by necessity of implementation, a larger bureaucracy to administer the new benefits.
First up in the new welfare bill are new demands of massive data collection by an already stressed Department of Health and Human Services. As if the department were not already handling enough, a list of data on families and incomes will now be gathered annually. From this data, DHHS would then, each year, have to create benefit benchmarks for the legislature to approve for the new year, as well are report on the prior year results.
What is not listed in the benchmarks is a strategic plan to transition welfare recipients back to work. Right from the get-go, the goal of the bill is not to create new economic opportunity for struggling Mainers. It’s only purpose is to guarantee benefits increase annually.
So, what are the actual benefits that Gideon and liberals in Augusta would like to expand? Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights:
Childcare – In the section addressing childcare, Gideon’s welfare bill expands TANF-like benefits to “needy children, 19 to 21 years of age.” You read that correctly. People who have been excluded from benefits due to age restrictions – because they are adults – are reclassified as children and reincorporated into benefits.
If reclassifying adults as children and making ineligible people eligible weren’t enough, the childcare section of the new welfare bill also provides a special housing allowance that will be administered by the Maine State Housing Authority, along with alternative assistance structures and financial benefits for non-citizens.
Increasing Welfare Payments – Rather than continue reforming Maine’s welfare system to curb abuses and ensure taxpayer funds are carefully administered in a prioritized fashion, LD 1475 mandates that in 2017, Maine increases the amount of monthly assistance to ensure it is equal to the average amount of monthly assistance in the other New England states. In an apparent race for highest benefits paid, by 2018, the bill also mandates that cost of living increases be added to monthly benefit payments.
Cars and car loans – Gideon’s welfare bill expands beyond straight monetary benefits to establish a $10 million fund to provide loans to purchase vehicles for benefit recipients. What would demand yet another expansion of the administrative state, DHHS would either administer, or contract to administer, a program of obtaining vehicles and providing them for individuals.
As an added sweetener, administrators are directed to establish a fund that would pay for vehicle repairs and other associated costs such as vehicle registration and insurance. Also built in is mandatory case management services whereby tax funded administrators are required to ensure that participants are taught about the “basic responsibilities of car ownership.”
The State of Maine faces real economic challenges that the working people of the middle-class expect legislators to solve. With record low unemployment and record high numbers of Mainers working after a massive reduction on state payrolls, we have a real opportunity to capitalize on gains already made.
A pro-growth economic agenda that attracts businesses and grows jobs will create the opportunities Mainers need to build their future. With LD 1475, liberals in Augusta make it quite clear that their priorities are to expand the welfare state and revive the cycle of government dependency.