Commentary

Posik: “Welfare cliff” Debate Exemplifies Exactly What is Wrong in Maine

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In a state where nearly half of its population is enrolled in some form of government assistance program, welfare reform is necessary.

That is the message Gov. Paul LePage received from the people of Maine when he was first elected into office in 2011, and that’s exactly what he did.

Now, welfare reform in Maine is facing backlash because of the “welfare cliff,” a factor dissuading those on welfare to re-enter the workforce, work more hours, or take better-paying jobs, in fear of immediately losing their benefits.

The welfare cliff is a pretend ledge that program recipients reach when they make more money than they used to and see a drastic loss of benefits as a result.

L.D. 1268 by Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook addresses the putative cliff by gradually reducing the cut-off threshold for benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Surprisingly, Governor LePage offered a contending bill of his own yesterday, the same day a legislative committee heard Gattine’s proposal.

In Gov. LePage’s plan, the state of Maine would disregard 100 percent of a full-time worker’s gross income for two months and allow them to continue receiving benefits. Then, after the first two months, the level of gross income disregarded reduces to 75 percent through the sixth month, and drops to 50 percent disregarded each month after that.

Gattine’s bill doesn’t involve the full-time work requirements outlined in Governor LePage’s proposal, but it does include the same scaled disregard of income for TANF program recipients.

LePage’s bill shows he’s willing to work with progressives across the aisle, and some have even said they expect to come to a cooperative agreement before the end of this legislative session.

I applaud the bipartisanship in Augusta, it’s truly pleasing to see. However I’m not enthralled with the Governor’s proposal, or anybody’s proposal on this issue for that matter.

Are we really at this point in our state where people don’t want to work because they will lose government assistance? Are we?

The absurdity is remarkable.

Both of these proposals accomplish the goals of welfare-providing a safety net for people who truly need it and helping them get back on their feet and out into the workforce.

 

But I ask, have the people of Maine truly been tainted with the process of thinking that it’s better to receive free money, money by the government collected from tax-paying citizens, than earn their own living?  The truth is, people don’t really act like that.

It’s truly fascinating that legislation needs to be made to address the disincentive to work that welfare programs are putting on Maine’s government assistance program recipients.

That statement is such a paradox, and it’s wherein lies the problem for the state of Maine. The cliff is a myth, and welfare isn’t a strong enough disincentive to work.  Mainers don’t want to be on welfare, they want to work and make enough money to make a better life for themselves.

We need to rebound and move away from the era of thinking where government is the answer and the only economic solution for the people of Maine.

Welfare cliff legislation only increases spending to fix a nonexistent issue.

Welfare doesn’t enlighten or employ the people of Maine. Education and opportunity does. Let’s end the welfare debate by providing education and employment opportunities to Maine’s youth to change the course for future generations, instead of creating legislation that tackles the “disincentive” to work that welfare enables.

Foster an economic climate that supports the needs of our state and incentivize those seeking education with the opportunity to help it grow. There’s no real need for welfare cliff legislation. The cliff is an imaginary excuse for those who encourage the saturation and abuse of these programs.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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