Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Fixing Maine’s Welfare System and Creating a Path to Economic Independence

Posted on January 11, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

(Audio link here.)

lepage officeMaine’s safety net should help our most needy citizens. Among those most vulnerable are our elderly, disabled and mentally ill.

Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

Maine’s safety net, however, should not pay for things like alcohol and cigarettes.

Unfortunately, we now know that welfare abuse is more widespread than we thought. This week, we shared with Mainers some shocking news about how some people are spending their welfare benefits – specifically money from Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

EBT Cards issued in Maine have been used in all 50 states.

Since 2012, more than 3,000 transactions were made at more than 20 “smoke shops” in Maine, which sell mostly cigarettes and other tobacco products. There are several examples of individuals using their EBT cards to spend hundreds of dollars at a time at liquor stores too. One liquor store in New Hampshire had more than a thousand transactions totaling nearly $8,000.

There are nearly 650 transactions at retail establishments that sell primarily alcohol, such as bars and sports pubs. The data also shows that EBT cards were used at strip clubs in Maine.

It makes sense that these sorts of transactions would be illegal. And they are now.

In the next few weeks, I will give lawmakers a bill that aims to reduce this kind of illegal activity. It’s imperative that fraud is eliminated from the welfare system because it takes away from those who need it most. Our Administration is committed to helping those who are truly in need, but we cannot support those cheating the system.

This session, I will also be introducing a bill to repeal a state law that prevents Maine from complying with federal requirements in one of Maine’s welfare programs – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF.

The Clinton Administration enacted welfare reforms in 1996, requiring beneficiaries of TANF to either work or train for a job. However, a year later the Maine Legislature updated state law to include a wide variety of exemptions that allow people to get around the federal work requirements. This puts us out of line with federal standards, and we now face $13 million in fines from the Obama Administration.

Under federal requirements, half of all families who receive TANF benefits and at least 90 percent of two-parent households must engage in work or education programs. Single parents must work 30 hours a week.

We just want to align state law with the federal standards so Maine taxpayers are not forced to pay millions of dollars in penalties. It’s common-sense legislation.

As Ronald Reagan used to joke, “The Democrats fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” A good job is the best way out of poverty. That’s why we are focusing on welfare-to-work programs to lift Mainers from poverty to the middle-class. I understand, it’s not an easy road.

By conforming to federal standards and eliminating welfare abuse, we can provide a safety net for our most vulnerable, and we can use our resources to provide Mainers a path to economic independence.

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