AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate passed legislation to ban the use of welfare benefits for the purchase of lottery, alcohol and tobacco products. The legislation passed unanimously.
The agreement between Republicans and Democrats includes penalties of a three-month disqualification of benefits for a first time offender of the ban, a 12-month disqualification for a second offense, and a 24-month disqualification for a third offense.
Republicans have proposed such bans in recent years but have met resistance from Democrats.
Senator Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin) led the effort to find common ground on legislation that includes significant penalties for those who abuse taxpayers’ welfare dollars.
“Republicans on the Health and Human Services Committee made clear early on that real penalties needed to be in place for a ban to be effective,” said Brakey who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. “I am glad we were able to get Democrats to agree with us that penalties must be firm. This compromise is a result of a lot of hard work, and taxpayers as well as those who truly need and correctly use Maine’s safety net will be the ones who benefit.”
Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo), who has made welfare reform a top priority during his time in the Legislature, called it a major step forward. “Reforming Maine’s broken welfare system has long been a priority for Senate Republicans, so I am glad we were finally able to get some buy-in from the Democrats on this issue. Welfare abuse is not a victimless crime. It takes resources away from the programs that are designed to help those who need them most. Mainers are willing to help their fellow citizens who are down and out, but they won’t tolerate people cheating the system. This legislation will help prevent such abuse.
“This is a step in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. For years, the citizens of Maine pleaded with us to pass meaningful welfare reform, but it fell on deaf ears. So they need to keep elected officials’ feet to the fire on this issue, “Senator Thibodeau said.
The welfare reform bill now goes to the governor’s office.