AUGUSTA – Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee gutted two of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s welfare reform proposals on Wednesday, voting against two of the bills and turning two others into study resolves.
“It is incomprehensible that Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee would vote to reject these common-sense proposals,” LePage said in a statement.
L.D. 1815, sponsored by House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, would have required welfare applicants to apply for three jobs before receiving cash benefits. Democrats voted this proposal down because it would provide unnecessary hardship for poor families.
L.D. 1842, sponsored by Rep. James Gillway (R-Searsport), would have eliminated exemptions in the state’s TANF statutes that allow welfare recipients to skip work search and career development programs for almost any reason. The LePage administration said the bill was needed to avoid fines from the federal government over roughly $13 million for 2007-2011. The fines have been assessed because too few of Maine’s TANF recipients are meeting federally determined work participation guidelines.
L.D. 1820, sponsored by Rep. Allen Nadeau (R-Fort Kent), would have restricted EBT card use outside of Maine. This bill was a response to The Maine Wire’s investigative reports in January, which showed that Maine EBT cards were being used in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including at casinos in Las Vegas and at Disney World in Florida.
Democrats on the HHS Committee stated during the work session that they did not trust the information provided by The Maine Wire. The bill will now, if passed, form a taxpayer-funded commission to study whether Maine EBT cards are being used out of state and what can be done about it.
L.D. 1822, sponsored by Rep. Sharri MacDonald (R-Old Orchard Beach), would have prevented TANF benefits from being spent on liquor, tobacco, gambling and adult entertainment. Democrats attempted to turn this bill into a study commission, resulting in a divided committee report.
All the bills were voted strictly along party lines, 7-5, with Republicans voting to pass the bills without amendment, while Democrats voted against bills or voted in favor of gutted versions.
“I am the first one in line to help someone in need, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of and neither do hard-working Mainers,” said LePage. “These liberal politicians would rather see welfare cash benefits, which are provided by struggling Maine taxpayers, go out of state than to keep that money in Maine.”
“They prefer to automatically hand out welfare benefits to anyone who applies, instead of simply asking them to look for work first,” he said. “This is outrageous.”