AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced yesterday its ongoing plan to use more than $89 million in funds generated through Governor Paul R. LePage’s common-sense welfare reforms. The Department’s plan will ensure the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is adequately funded to handle potential downturns in Maine’s economy, as well as support programs that are critical to protecting children and assisting families on their path to independence and self-sufficiency.
In his initial budget, Governor LePage proposed, and the legislature approved, a lifetime limit of 60 months for individuals receiving cash and other assistance through the TANF program. That five-year limit is the federal requirement, which was previously ignored by Maine. Only four other states have no time limit on TANF and many others limit benefits further such as RI (48 months) CT (21 months) and AZ (12 months). This and other TANF reforms have allowed Maine to preserve over $89 million in federal TANF block grant funds which Maine is actively repurposing and deploying to help low income families.
DHHS has developed a long-range vision for the program that ensures fiscal stability while making worthwhile investments in programs that support Maine families. Prior to 2013, when the TANF program was primarily focused on giving out benefits as cash, DHHS spent every penny of the grant each year. This kept the Department from planning and preparing for the future.
Now, DHHS is able to make strategic investments with TANF savings to take a targeted approach to supporting Maine’s most vulnerable. This allows the state to serve an even larger number of low-income families than just those directly enrolled in the TANF program and receiving TANF cash benefits.
“This is a great example of how effective welfare policy and sound fiscal management create opportunities for Maine,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “Now, instead of simply handing out welfare in the form of cash, we are able to support low-income families with a wide variety of services and supports that truly have a positive impact on their stability as a family, their training and education and their employment prospects.”
Some of the primary areas where DHHS is utilizing resources include increased TANF funding for child welfare and foster care, domestic violence supports and tax credits for low-income individuals. Using TANF funds in this way also creates opportunities to save state funds.
Details on the use of TANF funds include the following:
- $33.8 million in the 2016/17 and 2018/19 biennial budgets for child welfare, foster care and family stabilization programs
- $18.8 million per biennium for Earned Income Tax Credit reimbursements for low-income families
- $15.6 million per biennium in transfers to the Social Services Block Grant which has broad flexibility for various supports for low income families
- $6 million each biennium for Domestic Violence/Assault Victims and Prevention contracts
- $1.5 million each biennium for increased Transportation for TANF families
- $1.5 million for Job-Readiness Assessments for Multi-Barrier TANF individuals
- $1.1 million each biennium for increased benefit to low-income TANF families
- $1 million each biennium for Family Development Accounts matching savings accounts $4 to $1 for low-income families
- $1 million each biennium for increased Car Repair and Support Services
- $1 million each biennium for the newly created state Youth Services Block Grant
- Initial 2016 awards totaling $300,000 to SEALSFIT, My Place Teen Shelter, KV Cap and Trekkers
- $800,000 to fund the expansion and/or creation of afterschool and youth development programs
Additional planned investments in low income Maine families include:
- Significant additional supports for TANF families including direct, comprehensive case management, individual professional assessment, barrier remediation and work training
- Support for Sales Tax Fairness Credit Reimbursements (up to $10 million annually)
- Increased access to Family Development Accounts (up to $1 million annually)
- Homeless Youth and Education program
- Increased support to parent education programs to help children during divorce cases
- Job training for non-custodial parents recently released from correctional facilities
“Today Maine is in a financial position to invest in quality programs that support our neediest families, while also responsibly managing these resources for the long-term. Our vision includes utilizing funds actively in a thoughtful and strategic manner that also preserves sufficient funding for a potential downturn in the economy,” said Mayhew. “In the past, Maine legislators and agencies rushed to spend every dollar taxpayers sent our way. Fortunately, this administration recognizes the importance of projecting for future needs and acting with prudence. We plan to balance funding for new programs with financial stability.”