The Welfare Floor Speech Maine Dems Didn’t Want You to Hear


MacDonald Amendment floor speech never given

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.


  1. You have to ask yourself why anyone would stand in the way of such a compromise with the end of misuse of taxpayer money as the final goal? I think we all know the answer it’s the same one that can be applied to voter ID.

  2. EBT card fraud is a big red herring that’s gotten out of hand in Maine.

    The subject of this article, Representative Sharri MacDonald (a convenience store owner in my town of Old Orchard Beach), stood in Augusta last week and publicly implied that a competitor across the street from her store was abetting EBT fraud. He was, to put it mildly, outraged.

    Her advocacy to restrict and punish EBT families is shocking in a community where many hard working folks rely on TANF and SNAP assistance to simply help make household ends meet. She even refuses to permit constituents who have EBT cards from using them as patrons at her convenience shop.

    But I do understand. This is a Governor’s Bill (not hers) and she has been assigned the task of selling it. Mores the pity.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I did run for our House seat two years ago. I didn’t win. Nor am I running now. I’m supporting my old Rep.the Honorable George Hogan.

  3. “hard working folks rely on TANF and SNAP” says Mr Johnson…yes, Mr Johnson, many hard working folks rely on this assistance. And this is the very reason I don’t support EBT funds being spent on items that have zero to do with ‘simply making household ends meet’. My household does not require -nor use – alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets. Let’s define needy and eliminate greedy.

  4. I think its important to know that Sharri Macdonald is NOT a store owner. Her parents own the store and she is merely an employee of a mom and pop convenience store.

    IN no way does Rep Macdonald want to punish hard working families who need government assistance. She wants to cut down on the people who are abusing the system. I do believe that this is no as rampant as many republicans would like the state to believe, but to not try and find a way to

    “She even refuses to permit constituents who have EBT cards from using them as patrons at her convenience shop.”

    What does that commenter even mean by this? Is it not the store owners rights to choose whether or not they accept EBT transactions? Should everyone have to accept EBT and TANF now?

    Rep Macdonald has done more good for the town of OOB than anyone in recent memory. She is hard working and cares very very deeply about ALL of the people in her town. Everyone in OOB pays taxes that in some way or another, go to fund social programs for the state. She cares about everyone’s burden in trying to make sure money being spent is actually helping a family. Anyone who argues that Beer, Cigarettes, and Lottery Tickets are essential to a families stability is insane. Who could make that argument and truly believe in the words they are saying?

    I am a democrat but have and will continue to Vote for Rep. Macdonald to represent the town. I disagree with her positions on some issues but she is always willing to hear both sides of the argument and take into account everyone’s though on the issue. I hope this is not the end of the debate on the issue and some changes do happen to make sure everyone’s money goes to help the individuals who need the help the most.

  5. The true residents of Old Orchard Beach know that my family gives a great deal to help all in Old Orchard Beach. My parents have a drawer full of charge slips because sometimes people need some milk, or bread or maybe they cannot afford their car repairs – so my parents allow them to pay over time. This legislation was just a nibble in the welfare reform world and it is logical. This bill did not affect anyone who uses their TANF benefits in the way they are intended.

  6. As a Maine Citizen, mother and taxpayer sitting in the Galley above the House of Representatives watching this all take place on Tuesday, it was very difficult to keep my mouth closed. For many that know me, they know that is VERY difficult. One Representative, who I won’t keep nameless (McCabe, Skowhegan) stated that this was a victimless crime (TANF Fraud). He likened this crime to that of the OUI laws. He was outraged that the House and Senate were trying to make the laws more stringent than the OUI laws. He could not understand why they were trying to make the penalty be more than the first offense for an OUI as THAT crime was NOT a victimless crime and TANF fraud is.

    I cannot grasp how the “Good Representative from Skowhegan can feel this way. Does he not have constituents in his district who are just above the TANF/MAINECARE/FOODSTAMP benefits income? Does he not have Cognitively disable constituents who are sitting on a wait list for Waiver services? Does he not have Constituents? I don’t get it. How can you close your eyes and say this is a Victimless crime? There are SOOOO many who are not allowed benefit because we just can’t afford to make the income level just a bit higher or take another 15 people off the Waiver list and give them services. I am not saying that the only thing holding them back from obtaining services is the fact that there is Welfare Fraud. But it sure as hell doesn’t help. Why would you not want to have accountability for the criminals in this case.

    Another Representative spoke of the percentage of those that are the “criminals”. .02% are the criminals. NO…THEY ARE THE ONES WHO WERE CAUGHT. There are many more who do this all of the time…you just haven’t caught them!! Victimless crime…really??

    As I was sitting in the Galley, I was actually texting my Representative who was sitting in her chair. I was, as I stated, beside myself trying to stay quiet. I knew she would get my text. I wasn’t sure where she would run with it, but I just needed to scream out to someone. The funny thing is, before I could even hit send on my phone, I heard the Speaker say “The Speaker recognizes the Representative from Chelsea, Representative Sanderson”. Within a short few seconds, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. She stood up and stated exactly what I was texting her…A VICTIMLESS CRIME!! Really??? Thank you Representative MacDonald and Representative Sanderson, and also the Representative from Newport and MANY other Representatives in the House who tried to make WELFARE FRAUD penalties more harsh and maybe some of the “criminals” will think twice!!

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