Amidst the chaos under the dome yesterday surrounding the Democrat’s new “welfare reform that works” proposal, the Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing on the Governor’s Bill, LD 1631.
As previously reported, this common-sense legislation would align Maine requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) with federal law to avoid further penalties for our incredibly low work requirement compliance.
According to Beth Hamm, director of the Office for Family Independence, Maine has remained out of compliance since 2007, and our current work participation rate is a staggering 19%. The federal requirement for this block grant is 50% participation, but Maine has numerous exemptions in statute that allow 81% of participants to skirt this important requirement.
Governor LePage has made previous attempts to bring more families into compliance, however, liberals in the legislature were adamant that the federal government would not penalize Maine on this issue. According to Ms. Hamm, Maine has remained the worst offender for many years.
Alarmingly, Chris Hastedt, the spokesperson for Maine Equal Justice Partners, remains confident not only that more penalties will not come, but also that the $1 million penalty we have already received will not affect Maine taxpayers or participants of the TANF program. We have heard this line in the past, however. Representative Sanderson grilled Ms. Hastedt, stating “You were before this committee a year ago telling us we’d never have to pay these penalties.” Yet we are faced with the first $1 million penalty, with additional penalties expected for 2014 and 2015.
Ms. Hastedt went on to testify that Governor LePage’s proposal to bring Maine into compliance with federal requirements would make this program inaccessible to participants due to disabilities and further, that his bill would somehow break federal law.
Senator Eric Brakey went on to question how it is acceptable for program designed to get people back to work to have a 19% participation rate. Ms. Hastedt’s, however, did not see the problem.
As Senator Brakey pointed out, the disability program is available for those whose disabilities that prevent them from working. TANF has always been a work program with the goal of stable employment for recipients.
Our inability to come anywhere near this goal is a clear indication that the program is failing taxpayers, and most importantly, it is failing to help lift recipients out of poverty.