Late last October, a political pundit turned to me and said “You know the Democrats are struggling when they start campaigning on welfare reform.” Fast forward to November 4th, Governor LePage wins re-election, securing the most votes ever in a Maine gubernatorial election. Additionally, Republicans win the majority in the State Senate and make long strides in the House of Representatives.
Mainers went to the polls and voted for the ideas of a smaller, more efficient government. We declared that we wanted an organic, free market where consumers pick the winners. We also voted in favor of changing the welfare system to help the people that need it most.
In life, everyone falls and, as their neighbors, it is our responsible to catch them. We must meet the obligation to secure a safety net to the Mainers that have fallen. There are families in Maine that survive solely on the resources given to them through welfare. However, we must do more than assist them in surviving. We need to change the welfare system so all Mainers have a road to prosperity. We must pledge a hand up to our friends living in poverty. Governor LePage and Republicans in Augusta have done just that. It’s become clear that we need to restructure our system so we can best spend our money.
First, we need to create strict rules to ensure that the funds given to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are spent appropriately. Children are going to bed hungry while TANF funds can be spent to purchase tobacco, liquor and junk food. This money can also be used to pay for tattoos, buy lottery tickets, or to pay for bail.
Secondly, we need to provide some tough love and set restrictions on where Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards can be used. In my opinion, these cards should not be authorized for use outside of New England. Yes, Mainers like to take a weekend to visit loved ones or get away. However, it’s not right to ask the Maine taxpayers to foot the bill.
Thirdly, we need to realize that abuse of Maine’s welfare system does happen. Just like any other government program, we need to ensure that the possibility is minimal. Mainers disagree on the frequency of abuse. However, we should agree that every dollar that’s wasted could have gone to someone that truly needed it.
These steps will not create a picture perfect system. However, they are steps in the right direction. We should be able to agree that these steps are common sense style reforms. They strengthen the welfare program to ensure that money is being spent for just reasons on people that need it.