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Poliquin: Congress Must Act On Welfare Reform

There is no doubt a large number of Maine people have seen the need for real welfare reform.

As Maine’s State Treasurer, I saw, first-hand, just how out-of-sync Maine had become, compared to other states, with welfare.

Just a few years ago in 2011, Maine was 3rd in the entire nation for the percentage of households on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), 2nd for households on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), and 3rd for a population enrolled in welfare Medicaid. Additionally, Maine was one of only six states to allow for unlimited, lifetime TANF benefits. Remember the T in TANF stands for “temporary,” yet Maine had allowed for unlimited, lifetime benefits.

Since Governor LePage assumed office, a lot of work has been done to get our state back on the right track. The Governor has reduced welfare spending, re-prioritized welfare benefits for those who truly need a helping hand, and cracked down on fraud and abuse. He has also helped Mainers become more independent by re-instituting welfare-to-work requirements.  I applaud the Governor for his welfare reform efforts.

Now I am working to reform welfare at the national level from my seat in Congress.

In a report, the U.S. House Budget Committee found that 44 of the 47 Federal programs, many designed to help people move off welfare, were overlapped with at least one other program.  In total, these numerous programs spent $18 billion in taxpayer money during fiscal year 2009 alone.  I have supported eliminating duplications to ensure job-training programs are helping folks become more independent while cutting wasteful spending.

SNAP welfare funding, or Food Stamps, increased in spending and cost from $21 billion to over $75 billion in just twelve years.  That’s right, the cost of food stamps paid for by taxpayers increased by 350% in just twelve years.  I am supporting an effort which will convert SNAP to a State Flexibility Fund.  This change will allow Governors and local leaders to work toward eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse while ensuring dollars go to those who are truly in need.

To ensure we provide encouragement for people to move from welfare-to-work, I have also supported changes which will stop the President from allowing states to simply skip the requirement that able-bodied welfare recipients work a minimum number of hours per week, or receive job training, if they wish to stay on benefits.   Recently the Governor made this change on the state level.  Now we must encourage all states to follow the same path.  It has been the law of the land for some time, but some states sought waivers.  It is time for those waivers to end.

For those that truly need a hand-up, I know most Mainers agree we should be there to assist as a compassionate and caring society.  I agree.  As someone who lost my wife suddenly while my child was just a toddler, I understand how difficult it is to juggle a job and family.

Providing temporary support for those who are able bodied is critical to keeping a stable economy.  However, the emphasis needs to be temporary if we are going to focus on sustainable budgets, debt reduction, and a growing economy.

With a secure job, non-disabled people transitioning from welfare will be able to experience more freedom and opportunity.  They will have stability. They can put food on the table for their families and work toward achieving personal success.

In Congress, I will continue to work toward economic growth, sustainable budgets, and a better future for the people of Maine.