4/29/15 HHS Work Session on 6 GA/ TANF Bills

Posted on May 7, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Work sessions were held by the Legislature’s HHS Committee on 4/29/15 regarding the following bills:

LD 368, An Act To Integrate the State’s General Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Programs
Sen. Brakey of Androscoggin

LD 369, An Act To Align Municipal General Assistance Programs with the Immigration Status Policies of the Department of Health and Human Services
Sen. Brakey of Androscoggin

LD 632, An Act To Require the State To Administer and Fund the General Assistance Program
Sen. Saviello of Franklin

LD 722, An Act To Strengthen Penalties for Abuse of General Assistance
Sen. Brakey of Androscoggin

LD 1035,An Act To Create a 9-month Time Limit on General Assistance Benefits
Sen. Brakey of Androscoggin

LD 1037, An Act To Establish a 180-day Residency Requirement for Welfare Benefits
Sen. Brakey of Androscoggin

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(UPDATED) Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Despite Opposition, Maine is Putting Photos on All EBT Cards

Posted on November 21, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Updated post from July to reflect the following letter from the USDA to Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew dated 11/20/14:

As the Portland Press Herald is reporting, Maine has 45 days to respond to the letter, else risk losing 50% of the funding that helps cover SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) administrative costs.

    “Since Maine has represented to (the USDA) that the state’s EBT photo program is optional, the state must affirmatively demonstrate that SNAP clients have a choice whether to have a photo on their EBT card and their choice does not adversely affect their SNAP eligibility,” Kurt Messner, administrator for the USDA’s Northeast Region, wrote in the letter dated Thursday.

    Messner went on to say that “there are significant civil rights concerns about the state’s practice of taking photos of all non-applicant household members.” The practice, according to Messner, may represent a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    “Any individual who applies for SNAP on behalf of eligible household members must be able to access the program without fear,” Messner wrote.

Newly minted DHHS spokesman David Sorensen responded that “that the photo ID measure is a policy, not a rule or law” and that Commissioner Mayhew “plans to review some of the USDA allegations, including the claim that recipients are given the impression that a photo is mandatory.”

Mayhew is quoted:

    “We remain 100 percent committed to placing photos on EBT cards. While we are still reviewing the letter, it is imperative that Maine is able to implement common-sense reforms to ensure the integrity of our welfare system, preserving resources for the truly needy while protecting taxpayers.”

ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners have also weighed in:

    “Maine has a real hunger problem and it’s very serious,” said Chris Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners. “(SNAP) is being administered in a way that the state is creating more hunger problems and greater barriers for those who are hungry. The state has to tell people upfront that they have a choice about the photo ID.”

    “Requiring photo ID on EBT cards is incredibly costly, it’s ineffective and the Department of Agriculture has said it’s illegal,” Zachary Heiden, the ACLU of Maine’s legal director, said in a written statement. “If the administration wants to do what’s best for the state, it will stop punishing people who are struggling in this tough economy.”

====================================

Originally posted July 9.

A few weeks ago, DHHS officials provided case workers the following instructions regarding the photo ID EBT card changes the LePage administration was making.

DHHS also provided those same case workers a script of prepared answers to use when the inevitable questions would arise:

————————–

AUDIO LINK HERE

Two men from South Thomaston were arrested last week for trafficking bath salts. Drug enforcement agents seized three handguns, $25,000 in cash and—yes, you guessed it—seven EBT cards.

Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

The drug dealer admitted that the seven EBT cards were given to him as payment for the drugs. Bath salts contain very dangerous synthetic stimulants. They result in overdoses, hallucinations and even death. It’s bad enough that some people will pay for these drugs, but it is even worse when taxpayer dollars are used to pay for them.

This drug bust, along with several others, shows EBT cards are being used to support criminal behavior invading our state.

I had a plan that added 14 agents to fight drug crime, but liberal politicians rejected it. Democrats couldn’t even say yes, when I found the money for a compromise package with fewer drug agents, judges, prosecutors and supported an additional $750,000 for substance abuse treatment. Instead, liberal politicians swept the bill under the rug killing the compromise in the middle of the night.

Despite all evidence, including major drug busts day after day, Democrats refuse to address drug crime in our State.

These same liberal politicians also believe that a certain level of EBT fraud is acceptable. I don’t think any level of EBT fraud is acceptable, and I know you don’t either. Using an EBT card to buy drugs means a needy child, elderly or disabled person is not getting their benefits.

That’s why we are moving ahead with our plan to put photos on all EBT cards. It will not stop all EBT fraud, but it will make it easier to identify who is abusing these cards. It puts those who would abuse EBT cards on notice that the state is holding them accountable.

To test the plan to put photos on EBT cards, the Department of Health and Human Services ran a pilot project in its Bangor office. DHHS studied the mistakes other states made to ensure they did it right. The pilot program ran for two months and was very successful.

We are now implementing the program statewide. The new card not only features a photo, but it also clearly states that misuse of the EBT card is considered a crime. Photos on the new EBT cards will help DHHS verify the identity of the card holder. The photos will be helpful in cases where EBT cards are sold for cash or drugs.

They will also help determine who is the rightful owner of a card when multiple EBT cards are found on an individual.

There are about 223,000 EBT cards in Maine. These cards are loaded with benefits such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other welfare benefits. Over the last 12 months, more than $383 million in benefits have been put on Maine EBT cards.

Even if just one percent is wasted or abused, that’s almost 4 million dollars. Wasting 4 million dollars of taxpayer money may be okay to liberals in Maine and Washington, D.C., but it’s not okay with me.

While I am your Governor, I won’t tolerate one dollar of waste, fraud or abuse. I believe it’s government’s responsibility to ensure your taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. That’s why my administration will keep moving forward to protect taxpayer dollars and the benefits that are truly needed by our most vulnerable citizens.

Thank you for listening.

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Weekly Democratic Address by Rep. Mark Dion (Portland): LePage tries again to distract from poor economic performance

Posted on August 8, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Rep. Dion: LePage tries again to distract from poor economic performance
TANF announcement follows news that Maine’s economy 47th slowest in nation

The best anti-crime program is a job. That’s something we should all agree on. Reducing the need for welfare is also best accomplished by growing jobs. Real jobs with real wages.

The problem for Governor Paul LePage is that he’s failed to live up to his own promises!

mark dionGood morning. I’m Representative Mark Dion of Portland, former sheriff of Cumberland County. And thank you for tuning in.

The governor is reaching into the same old bag of scapegoat politics to once again distract Maine people from his poor performance on jobs and the economy.

You probably just heard the governor use his radio address to announce he’ll finally enforce a law to drug test convicted drug felons whose families rely on TANF.

He probably doesn’t want you to know that many of these felons were guilty of possessing only small amounts of drugs and not members of some massive drug trafficking cartel.

But facts like these destroy the distraction he’s trying to create.

My question to the governor is: “Where have you been?”

The TANF law has been on the books for three years. Three years with no action by the governor’s administration.

But this isn’t really about fixing a problem. It’s about finding someone to blame.

When it comes to scapegoating public assistance, the governor’s never been concerned that his decrees are only loosely connected to the facts.

So why wait until an election year to make these executive decisions?

The governor’s record on the economy makes the answer all too clear.

  • Maine has been scraping along the bottom with each new set of economic figures.
  • We’ve recovered only 63 percent of the jobs lost in the recession.
  • The nation as a whole and New England as a region have recovered all their lost jobs – and added even more on top of that.
  • Employment levels for Mainers of prime working age have not improved since the recession.
  • And earlier this week, Business Insider ranked Maine as the nation’s 47th slowest economy.

    The governor’s strategic response to this sorry financial evaluation? Drug testing.

    C’mon, Governor. We both know Maine’s economy deserves a better solution than that.

    After all, you’ve never missed an opportunity to tout your business savvy.

    You’ve told the people of Maine: “I know what it takes to grow an economy.” You have reminded us countless times that you made your mark as a “turnaround specialist.”

    But an economic turnaround requires more than running over families struggling with addiction and unemployment.

    Maine deserves better than that!

    Maine needs a leader who promotes opportunity and works for solutions – solutions like workforce training, college affordability and support for small business innovators.

    We need a leader to move our economy, boost our middle class and who knows that being poor is not a crime. We need an effective CEO, who relies on the facts – now more than ever.

    Thank you for listening. I’m Representative Mark Dion of Portland.

    ###

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  • Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: “New Welfare Rule: State to Start Drug Testing Convicted Felons”

    Posted on August 6, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    Audio link here.

      New Welfare Rule: State to Start Drug Testing Convicted Felons
      Drug testing of convicted felons who are applying or receiving welfare is nothing new.

      Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

      In 2014, at least 18 states introduced plans that would require drug screening or testing for welfare applicants or recipients.

      DSC_0113Today, I am announcing that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is moving forward with its plan to conduct drug tests of convicted drug felons who are applying for or receiving welfare benefits.

      Over the last several months, the State has been focused on drug-testing measures that not only ensure privacy and fairness, but also reinforce accountability in the program.

      The tests will be required for drug felons who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF. Federal rules support drug testing as part of the federal TANF money that Maine receives.

      When people apply for welfare benefits, they must report whether they have a prior drug-related felony conviction. If the answer is yes, the State will schedule a drug test and notify the individual 24 hours prior to the actual test.

      If a person tests positive, they will have the option to be tested a second time. At any time, an individual can avoid termination of benefits by enrolling in an approved substance abuse program. Those who fail to disclose they are convicted drug felons will lose their welfare benefits immediately.

      Our welfare programs, including TANF, are designed to be a short-term benefit that assists families and children with the basics of everyday living. If someone tests positive, they are putting their drug habits or addictions ahead of their family’s needs. We must do all that we can to ensure children’s needs are being met and that TANF recipients have the best possible chance at economic independence.

      Being drug-free is a critical aspect of escaping from poverty and moving toward self-sufficiency.

      Protecting the trust of taxpayers is one of my greatest responsibilities. I will do everything in my power to ensure welfare benefits are used for the truly needy and not provided to support people’s drug habits or addictions.

      However, it’s no secret: Maine has a drug problem. When we identify people who are on drugs, we must make an effort to help them break their addiction. Our welfare system depends on it, but more importantly, our society does.

      If you have a drug problem or know someone struggling with addiction, the State has resources to help. Please call 2-1-1 and someone will help you find services in your area. Addiction does not have to control your life. Again, call 2-1-1 for help today.

      Thank you for listening.

    —–

    Democratic leaders Senate President Justin Alfond and Speaker of the House Mark Eves have issued their own responses in a press release, agreeing with the Governor’s statement that this is “nothing new” while accusing the chief executive of politicizing enforcement of a three year old law.

    More later on the Mike Michaud proposed “Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services” mentioned in the release- here is a clip from his June press conference, rolling out the idea to Maine media in Augusta.

      LePage Continues to Play Politics With Welfare to Distract From Lagging Jobs Record

      Governor announces he’ll finally enforce a law that’s been on the books for years to score election year political points

       

      AUGUSTA — Top legislative leaders on Wednesday said Governor LePage’s latest announcement that he’ll finally enforce a 2011 law* to drug test convicted drug felons whose families rely on temporary assistance from the state is just the latest in his campaign effort to distract from his lagging economic record. The leaders also said the Governor’s failure to enforce the law was another reason to support an independent Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services.

      Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick, who helped negotiate the 2011 law to ensure substance abuse treatment was included, called the Governor’s announcement “pure politics.”

       
      eves alfond

      “This law has been on the books for years, yet LePage hasn’t enforced it,” said Eves. “We need leaders who are serious about solving problems and enforcing the law, not simply scoring political points in an election year at a time when Maine’s economy is lagging. It’s also one more reason to support an independent Inspector General at the Department.”

       

      Earlier this week, Business Insider ranked Maine 47th for economic growth in the country, so now the Governor is stepping up his welfare rhetoric.

       

      This is more election year politics. The governor is trumpeting a law that already exists and he hasn’t enforced,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “The timing is peculiar given that he made this stale announcement the day after another report ranks Maine’s economy at the bottom of the pack. The evidence is mounting that Paul LePage’s policies are failing Maine people.”

       

      According to national labor statistics, the country has recovered 106 percent of the non-farm payroll jobs lost during the recession. Regionally, New England has recovered 116 percent of jobs. Maine lags behind, recovering only 63 percent of the jobs lost in the recession.

       

      Under Paul LePage’s economic leadership, Maine has experienced, a job creation record among the worst in the U.S. since the bottom of the recession, ranking 42nd out of 50 states in the latest report (June 2014). Additionally, Maine has the 5th highest rate in the country of people who work only part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs.

       

      ###

       

      *According to Title 22, Section 20, Denial of assistance based on positive drug test:  A recipient of TANF assistance may be denied TANF assistance as described in this subsection. A. The department may administer a drug test to a recipient of TANF assistance who has been convicted of a drug-related felony, as described in Section 115 of PRWORA, within 20 years of that person’s date of conviction…If the 2nd drug test confirms that the person is using an illegal drug, the person may avoid termination of TANF assistance by enrolling in a substance abuse treatment program appropriate to the type of illegal drug being used by that person. [RR 2011, c. 1, §33 (RAL).]

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    Governor LePage, er, “Lewiston Mayor Bob MacDonald” on “Elusive Central American Children” Goes Off On Both Dems & The Rails

    Posted on August 5, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    Image via 2/7/11 Portland Phoenix article "LePage's secret puppeteers" by Colin Woodard.

    Image via 2/7/11 Portland Phoenix article “LePage’s secret puppeteers” by Colin Woodard.

    Occasionally it is always nice to read some of the smaller and more locally focused publications around the state, such as the Auburn based Twin City Times, to see what folks are supposedly saying.

    “Twin City Times” just happens to be edited and published by Maine Governor Paul LePage’s communications director Peter Steele. Make note of that fact, because it’s kinda important.

    One can get a real feel for the sentiments locally of what is happening in Augusta by checking these papers out, especially if that region’s elected officials take to their keyboards and submit opinion pieces of note for their constituents’ consideration.

    Governor Paul LePage sits at Governor James G. Blaine's Congressional desk (10/12/13).

    Governor Paul LePage sits at Governor James G. Blaine’s Congressional desk (10/12/13).

    But when the governor’s own head press guy is editing, then publishing the articles himself, there is the nagging feeling that possibly Paul LePage said it himself.

    This rings especially true in light of recent revelations that according to Mike Tipping’s “As Maine Went”, LePage in January 2010 created the pseudonym “ForThePeople” as to be able to post anonymously and write a series of posts to sway voters and help himself in that year’s Republican primary.

    So there is a very VERY strong perception here that “Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald” is in reality a really badly hidden sockpuppet version of Maine Governor Paul LePage. While it makes sense, it is also a rather strange twist, considering in the past it was LePage who was reported to be the “puppet”.

    Want some proof?

    We present to you a reminder in the form of “Exhibit A”: “Is LePage’s “Outrage” A Politicized Continuation Of Ongoing General Assistance/ Immigrant Battle?”

    And now “Exhibit B”: Quite something now, isn’t it?

    bob macdonald

    The GOP in Maine must be just thrilled that Paul LePage, who has a history of meeting with dangerous fringe elements within his own party, er, “holds regular meetings with ALL of his constituents (wink wink), has somehow managed not to even be in the same room as THIS guy.

    Oh wait.

    AWKWARD!!!

    So let’s wipe the copious spittle off “MacDonald’s” lil screed and work our way down through all of this.

    Oh where, oh where to begin? Oh where, oh where to begin?

    • Those “elusive Central American children” are NOT at the Blaine House, nor does Paul LePage know where they are.

    (He knows. He looked.)

    • President Obama may headline a Shenna Bellows for Senate fundraiser in Bar Harbor, which is currently overrun by filthy rich drunken Chinese tourists!

    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be “gussying up” golf courses for Obama!
    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be learning English at those golf courses!

    Governor Paul LePage at 3/24/14 press conference rolling out 4 EBT/ TANF reform bills. Also seen: Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport)

    Governor Paul LePage at 3/24/14 press conference rolling out 4 EBT/ TANF reform bills. Also seen: Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport)

    (We all know how Paul LePage feels about President Obama.)

    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be hiding in tents on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud’s Northern Maine property!
    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be hiding in an abandoned house in Millinocket!
    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be housed in a federal facility!
    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be in Macdonald’s own city of Lewiston!
    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be at the VA’s Community Based Outpatient Clinic on Challenger Drive!

    (Okay, going after gubernatorial opponent Mike Michaud- this we could have seen coming a mile away.)

    But sheesh- do we know where the little tykes AREN’T?

    moggg

    • Those “elusive Central American children” ARE MOST DEFINITELY NOT in Cape Elizabeth.

    As the polls keep showing, NOBODY is in Cape Elizabeth and in fact, things are especially quiet there, as mogul Eliot Cutler’s numbers are doing a downhill mogul run of their own.

    Back to those “elusive Central American children”. Where were we?

    Oh yes… the next stop on the “Macdonald-LePage” crazy train is a short, but to “Macdonald” and “Macdonald” alone, logical run from Cape Elizabeth to Portland.

    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be at Senate President Justin Alfond’s cosmopolitan house in Portland, stealing the silver spoons!

    (Hmm, Maine is a big place, though. Better widen the scope.)

    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be hiding with Paul Bunyan!

    (Getting warmer- wait for it…)

    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be hiding with the “Paul Bunyan of Northern Maine”, Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson!
    • Those “elusive Central American children” could be in Allagash, an “uncharted land [that] would make a perfect clandestine place to set up a refugee/ asylum-seeker camp.”

    (DING DING DING! We have a winnah!)

    How do you figure THIS one, Governor LePage, er, “Mayor Macdonald”? Inquiring minds have got to know what the voices inside your head are saying. Could you elaborate a bit?

    (Yes, yes they are.)

    And we all know how you feel about folks from the County, Governor.

    More specifically, we know of the long standing feud you, er, “Governor LePage” have had with Senator Jackson.

    Oh, sorry- not “Governor LePage”, but “Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald”.

    Man, this IS confusing.

    Do please continue, sir.

    • Those “elusive Central American children” now “thousands of Spanish-speaking illegals”, will be “indoctrinated into the tenets of Progressive Democratic philosophies”.

    crazy(Oh heck, time to close down shop, kids; we’ve been found out!! Everyone head for Canada!)

    But wait, there is more about “Camp Commandant Jackson” and his nefarious plans.

      “Once camp commandant Jackson is satisfied that these new Democrats possess the qualities needed to be good progressives, they will be released into all Maine counties to bilingually spread the gospel of the common man, a.k.a. progressive political propaganda.”

    Okay, enough already. Seriously, just stop.

    The article goes on to look at suspects Emily Cain and Mark Eves, but you get the gist. Although to have whoever authored this article talk about psychological needs is remarkable.

    And just wait until “Lewiston Mayor Bob MacDonald” catches wind of – cue the ominous music-

    “Duh-duh-duuuuuuuuuuh….”

    THIS!!

    king fox

    Waiting for the “LePage/Macdonald/whoever” press release with a joint statement that Stephen King’s Bangor home is the hiding spot for those “elusive Central American children” in three… two… one…

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    UPDATED: Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Handing out money won’t guide Mainers to economic success

    Posted on July 23, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

    UPDATE: Some days ya just can’t make this stuff up…

    Now Paul LePage is claiming (online petition found on the LePage2014 website) HE is the one responsible for these changes in SNAP benefits, rather than acknowledging that LD 1343, the “Ticket to Work” bill sponsored by Speaker of the House Mark Eves passed into law in June (unsigned by LePage), was not his idea at all.

    LD 1343 mandated the “partnership between DHHS and DOL has led to an increased effort to help Mainers who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Vocational assessments, connection to the Maine Career Centers and job banks and continued case management have led to a significant increase in the employment of TANF recipients” that LePage mentioned in his weekly address (see below).

    And then there is the matter of some pesky news stories and press releases about LD 1343 as well as the fact that DHHS presented testimony in support of LD 1343 at the 5/3/13 public hearing.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Seth Berry during 7/24/14 Legislative Council meeting.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Seth Berry during 7/24/14 Legislative Council meeting.

  • 6/14/13- “Maine House Unanimously Approves Speaker’s “Ticket-to-Work” bill”

      The Maine House on Friday unanimously approved a “Ticket to Work” bill that would reform Maine’s program for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

      The legislation, LD 1343, “An Act to Improve Work Readiness for Families facing Significant Barriers to Employment,” would ensure that TANF recipients received tools and training to enter the workforce and secure long-term employment. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to provide a comprehensive assessment to identify education and other programs recipients need for job placement.

      The legislation also directs the Department to transition TANF recipients with severe disabilities and barriers to work from the state program and transition them to SSI/SSDI, reducing the cost to the state. A 2010 survey of TANF recipients conducted by the University of Maine found that 90 percent of recipients who were on the program for longer than five years faced a physical and mental health disability.

      The LePage administration testified in support of the measure during the public hearing on the bill. The Department of Health and Human Services is already in the process of selecting a contractor for the assessment services, which will be funded from federal block grant funds.

  • 7/2/13- “Ticket-to-work law designed to help welfare recipients get long-term employment”
      A bill meant to more quickly move families from welfare to sustainable long-term employment has become law, the Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Eves said Tuesday.

      The so-called, “Ticket-to-Work” law provides resources and assessment for those receiving state and federal financial aid and looks to determine what specific training or educational programs would help individuals gain sustainable employment.

      Eves, of North Berwick, authored the bill, but the measure will go into effect without Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.

  • 1/3/14- “LePage: Maine faces $13 million in federal fines for ‘overly generous’ welfare system”
      According to LePage, the state could be liable for up to $13 million in federal fines for not meeting national TANF guidelines from 2007 through 2010, though that amount can be reduced if Maine takes quick action. At issue is that the state did not meet federal requirements for the number of TANF recipients who were working while receiving benefits.

      “We must fix this Maine law in order to comply with federal law,” said LePage in a prepared statement. “Maine is overly generous in allowing a wide variety of exemptions from the work requirement, which are not recommended by the federal government, making it impossible to meet federal standards.”

      House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said in a prepared statement Friday that Democrats are willing to work with LePage to improve anti-poverty programs, and already have. Last year, a “Ticket to Work” bill proposed by Eves, which helps Mainers access job training and other tools to secure long-term employment, went into law without LePage’s signature.

    ——————————————————

    DSC_0114As was noted in a press release, the changes proposed by Governor LePage and DHHS must go through the rule-making and public hearing process first. Despite that, DHHS will be sending out notification letters soon to almost 12,000 EBT food stamp recipients and intend to implement the 20 hr work or volunteer requirement effective October 1:

      Recipients of Food Supplement, more commonly known as Food Stamps, who are between ages 18 and 49, who have no dependents living with them, who are not pregnant and who are not disabled will have to meet the work participation requirement or the benefit will no longer be provided after three months.

      Nearly 12,000 people in the Food Supplement program are considered Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents’ by federal rules. Approximately $15 million a year in Food Supplemental benefits are provided to this group.

      In order to meet work requirements, those who fall into this category must work a minimum of 20 hours a week or volunteer for a community agency for a certain number of hours, depending upon the value of the current Food Supplement benefit received. Participation in the Maine Department of Labor’s (DOL) Competitive Skills Scholarship Program, which helps individuals gain skills that will lead to higher paying jobs, also fulfills the work requirement.

      “There are some valuable resources available to assist people in meeting the work requirement and ultimately, to transition from government dependence to personal independence,” said Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “We are committed to helping people use these resources, as well as providing training, to get people back to work as quickly as possible.”

    Audio link here

    Handing out money won’t guide Mainers to economic success

    I don’t believe that handing a check to someone will lift them out of poverty. I do believe in giving them the tools and the knowledge to help them succeed at their job.

    Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

    There are two ways to fight poverty. We can try to buy our way out of it, which makes liberals feel good. But doing that has grown our welfare system so much that we can no longer provide the appropriate level of care for Maine’s most vulnerable people.

    Or we can provide education and training to help guide a person toward a life of economic independence.

    If you hand someone money who hasn’t worked for it, 9 times out of 10, it’s going to be spent frivolously. But if you offer support and guidance to help someone get employed, the check they get from their hard work is apt to be spent more wisely.

    DSC_0113Our Administration has transformed welfare, turning the focus from welfare to work. We have intensified efforts to ensure people have the ability and access to learn job skills.

    During the last six months, a partnership between DHHS and DOL has led to an increased effort to help Mainers who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Vocational assessments, connection to the Maine Career Centers and job banks and continued case management have led to a significant increase in the employment of TANF recipients. The Departments will take a similar approach to help Food Supplement recipients meet the work requirement by providing job-search training and support that focuses heavily on attaining employment.

    Effective October 1, the State will no longer seek a waiver from the federal government to eliminate the work requirement for Food Supplement benefits, more commonly known as food stamps. Instead, DHHS will abide by federal law that requires most able-bodied recipients work, provide volunteer services or be involved in a specialized work training program in order to receive food stamps. We expect this change will affect about 11,000 Mainers.

    However, this is not about cutting people off a program. Instead, this is common-sense reform that will put Mainers on a path to economic independence. The State has the resources, and it’s our job to let Mainers know that the help is available for them.

    Ultimately, we must prioritize our welfare system so we can protect our most needy. My administration has been focused on our children, elderly, disabled and mentally ill. These people are a priority, and we will continue to see that they are at the top of the list.

    Thank you for listening.

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  • (UPDATED) Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: “Illegal Aliens Should Not Get General Assistance”

    Posted on June 24, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

    9PM UPDATE: Some regional coverage now, as Boston media is paying attention

    Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills has now issued a response to this morning’s weekly address of Governor LePage (see below). Within the letter is a detailed statement of why she and her office believe that the rules changes set forth by the administration are unconstitutional, the substantial risks that LePage places all Maine municipalities and citizens, and a detailed timeline of communications between her office, DHHS and that of the Governor.

    Note: Using more of his “My Way Or The Highway” approach, Governor Paul LePage has now forced all Maine municipalities to decide whether they will take his side (with a recent rule change in eligibility) or that of Attorney General Janet Mills (who along with ACLU of Maine maintains that the change is unconstitutional) in the ongoing fight over general assistance for undocumented immigrants.

    The letter seen below was sent to all Maine cities and towns late last week.

    AUDIO: Illegal Aliens Should Not Get General Assistance

        Illegal Aliens Should Not Get General Assistance

      I have always said Maine’s safety net should help our most needy citizens.

      Hello. This is Governor Paul LePage.

      togethThese vulnerable Mainers include the elderly, children, disabled and mentally ill.

      Illegal aliens who choose to live in Maine are not our most vulnerable citizens. We need to take care of Mainers first. I think most Mainers would agree.

      During my first few days in office in 2011, I issued an Executive Order to repeal Maine’s status as a sanctuary state. In 2004 Democratic leadership banned state officials from asking people about their legal status when they requested benefits. My order rescinded that policy.

      Also in 2011, the State eliminated state welfare benefits for illegal immigrants.

      Last week, we took the next step. We told Maine towns and cities they will no longer get state funding to give to illegal aliens.

      Federal law prohibits states from providing General Assistance to illegal immigrants. This law was enacted in 1996, when President Clinton and the Republican Congress approved sweeping welfare reforms.

      paul janetAttorney General Janet Mills was appointed by the Democratic-led Legislature, and she works for them. Mills has been working aggressively to keep giving General Assistance to illegal aliens. What about “illegal” doesn’t she understand? I find it inexplicable that the state’s top law enforcement official would encourage municipalities to violate federal law.

      It’s really quite simple. Federal law prohibits state reimbursement for illegal immigrants. We are just enforcing the federal law.

      Local taxpayers must speak for themselves. I urge all Mainers to tell your city councilors and selectmen to stop handing out your money to illegals.

      By following federal law and eliminating welfare abuse, we can provide a safety net for our most vulnerable. We will be able to use our resources more effectively and efficiently to better provide Mainers a path to economic independence.

      Thank you for listening.

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    Democratic Radio Address by Sen. Geoff Gratwick (Penobscot): LePage War on Poor A Cyincal Political Campaign Strategy, Witch Hunt

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

    Audio here.

    DEMOCRATIC RADIO ADDRESS
    Gratwick says: The Governor’s war on the poor is a cynical political campaign strategy, a witch hunt

    gratwick in senateIn his office, Governor LePage rings alarm bells on a daily basis about fraud and abuse. But his choice of when to sound the alarm is selective. He does not ring the alarm for all fraud and abuse, only when he talks about the poor.

    Good Morning. This is State Senator Geoff Gratwick of Bangor.

    Make no mistake, fraud and abuse, of any sort, is wrong; it is cheating, it is stealing. Where ever it exists, it must be prosecuted–and our laws must be strong.

    Here’s the thing: our laws are strong.

    The Maine Attorney General’s office and Department of Health and Human Services have active divisions dedicated to investigating and prosecuting fraud and abuse. In fact, in the past several years, lawmakers passed a measure giving the state an additional $700,000 per year to fight fraud. We hired an additional seven fraud investigators so we now have a total of 17. To put that in perspective, the state only has 12 investigators inspecting the safety of daycare centers for infants and children in Maine.

    And so it seems, Maine has all the tools needed to investigate potential cases of fraud.

    While Governor LePage is holding press conferences with glossy photos of EBT cards, a closer look at where recovered funds actually come from gives a more accurate picture of the true extent of the problem. And, it suggests that perhaps the Governor is more interested in politics than in protecting the public purse in his pursuit of fraud and abuse.

    Over the last four years, from 2010 to 2014, Maine has prosecuted and recovered funds related to fraud and abuse by individuals and large corporations. Here are the facts: you decide which group deserves more attention.

    Maine, along with the federal government, has prosecuted 48 medical and pharmaceutical corporations and recovered $55 MILLION DOLLARS. To their shame, these businesses include some of the largest and best known medical companies in the country – Walgreens, Johnson and Johnson, Avandia, and Merck.

    The state also prosecuted 37 individuals for abuse of SNAP and TANF benefits. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) and TANF is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Recent data from DHHS indicates that less than half of one percent of folks, that is one in every 200 people receiving benefits have abused these programs. The guilty folks have been sentenced to jail for up to a year and returned $489,000 to the state treasury.

    The evidence simply does not support accusations of widespread problems.

    So compare: big corporations fraudulently took $55 MILLION DOLLARS, and individuals fraudulently took less than HALF a MILLION DOLLARS.

    Make no mistake. No amount of fraud is acceptable. But in a time of scarce resources, is it unacceptable that the Governor is spending more than $700,000 to recover less than $500,000 from individuals.

    The Governor has focused our attention solely on the low income people in front of us in the grocery line buying food with an EBT card because they are an easy target. It’s easier to rail against the poor than it is to make sure our system works for all Mainers.

    Just this week, Senate Democrats voted in support of a measure that would have banned the so-called “Prohibited Five” from purchase with TANF dollars. The items on this list include alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, bail, and strip clubs. It makes common sense that in order for a program to work effectively and help families and children in crisis get back on their feet, it is essential that these dollars not go toward things like alcohol and cigarettes.

    But for all the tough talk, not a single Republican supported the measure to ban the “Prohibited Five”–even though it was nearly identical to a bill sponsored by Governor LePage. One has to wonder why.

    The Governor’s war on the poor is a cynical political campaign strategy, a witch hunt; he has chosen to demonize people who are poor–even if they are the working poor- for political advantage.

    The poor and the powerless have been easy scapegoats since history began. It easier to stoke popular fear and resentment of the ‘other’, to blame the victim, than it is to find real solutions to difficult problems.

    The only way we can curb fraud and abuse by individuals is by using the proven levers that help people escape poverty: education, jobs and health care. The only way we can curb corporate abuse is to have a government that functions well. This is a job that must involve us all, including the Governor.

    Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Geoff Gratwick. Have a great spring weekend.

    ———-

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    Maine Senate Takes Up EBT- TANF- GA Bills LDs 1829, 1822, 1820, 1842, 1815 and 1844 (VIDEOS)

    Posted on April 8, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    (NOTE: All of these will be separated and written up over the rest of the week. In the meanwhile, for the sake of sharing quickly, here are all 44 video clips taken during the Monday afternoon/ evening second session in order of debate.)

    1. LD 1829, “An Act To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs”.
    ROLL CALL: 21 Yeas – 14 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1829 to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1829

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1829

    Asst Minority Leader Sen. Roger Katz Opposing LD 1829

    Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) Supporting LD 1829

    2. LD 1822, “An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures”.
    ROLL CALL: 18 Yeas – 17 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1822 (OTP as amended by H-787) to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting H-787 amended LD 1822

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

    Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Offers SAS 505 to amend LD 1822

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1822 SAS-505

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 CAH 787, SAS 505

    Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. David Burns (R-Washington) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

    Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) concludes supporting remarks on LD 1822, SAS-505

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 2)

    3. LD 1820, “An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers”.
    ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1820 as amended to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1820

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1820

    4. LD 1842, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
    ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1842 to Senate w/ ONTP committee recommendation

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1842

    Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1842

    Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    5. LD 1815, “An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
    ROLL CALL: 20 Yeas – 15 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1815 (“ONTP”) to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

    Sen. Ron Collins (R-York) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) opposing ONTP on LD 1815

    Asst Majority Leader Anne Haskell (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

    Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

    6. LD 1844, “An Act To Increase Local Responsibility for General Assistance”.
    ROLL CALL: 22 Yeas – 12 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1844 (ONTP) to Senate

    Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

    Sen. John Cleveland (D-Androscoggin) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

    Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Somerset) opposing LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

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    “Put Up or Shut Up” Time! Maine Legislature Takes Up LD 1829, Directing DHHS to Report EBT/ TANF Fraud

    Posted on April 7, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

    Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

    When Governor LePage and others in March held a press conference in the governor’s cabinet room and rolled out a slew of EBT/ TANF welfare reform bills, they were widely seen as election year politicized moves and characterized as a “bait and switch”tactic by LePage:

      “The governor maintains that “millions” of dollars in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families EBT card transactions must be fraudulent because, well, they were spent out of state. Yet even though it’s perfectly legal to spend TANF funds beyond Maine, the governor is determined to eliminate the transactions entirely.

      And he isn’t letting the facts get in the way of a good election year issue.

      The actual total of so-called “questionable” out-of-state TANF transactions in 2013 was about $1 million, or about .0002 percent of Maine’s biennial budget – or almost exactly what the governor spent on his no-bid, politically rigged and economically flawed Alexander Group “welfare report.”

      But if that’s not enough, the governor can’t actually prove that any of these transactions were fraudulent because the government doesn’t track the purchases. Instead, all he can do it spout anecdotes, allegations and breathless hyperbole.”

    After the bills’ public hearing, the HHS Committee chairs minced no words in their criticism of the governor’s tactics:

    DSC_0040

      Sen. Margaret Craven of Lewiston: “Governor LePage’s proposals will not help people get a job and get back on their feet. They will simply make it harder for struggling families to survive. The right route to reform is through education and training. We certainly should not be passing the buck to our towns and shirking on our responsibility.”

      Rep. Dick Farnsworth of Portland: “If there is fraud, no matter how small, it should be investigated and prosecuted, not politicized. We are directing the Governor to investigate that fraud and prosecute it, if it is real. He should stop using it to pull the rug out from struggling families, especially at a time when Maine has one of the worst job growth records in the nation. Governor LePage has built his election campaigns on cynically stereotyping poor Mainers under the guise of welfare reform. The reality is that his policies have only led to a rise in homelessness and an increase in child hunger.”

    Upon hearing about the bills initially and their intent, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills sent a letter last month to Democratic leaders, urging them to “put this matter into perspective”, “go after big fish as well as small” and “not elevate one over another”. Her 3 page missive is below.

    To that end, HHS Committee member Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) put forth a bill, LD 1829 “An Act To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs”, to combat the claims of the Governor’s office of fraud and do exactly what the attorney general urged.

    Here are his prepared remarks as delivered before the legislature’s standing HHS committee at the bill’s public hearing, held immediately after those for LDs 1815, 1822, 1820, and 1842:

    More from a Maine House Democrats press release:

    HHS Committee members Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) and Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) listen to testimony during the public hearings for LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842.

    HHS Committee members Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) and Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) listen to testimony during the public hearings for LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842.

      According to a report in the Portland Press Herald, despite the effort, the number of successful prosecutions has increased from eight in 2010, to 10 in 2011, to 15 in 2012. The amount of restitution that courts have ordered increased from $92,339 in 2010 to $104,341 in 2012. In 2012, only 13 people were convicted of welfare fraud .

      “What we see from the Governor and the administration is more smoke and mirrors. The Governor has the tools and resources to fight fraud. But he’s not doing the job,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee. “Not only are his proposals unconstitutional and unenforceable, but they deflect attention from the real waste and mismanagement on his watch.”

      Under Governor Paul LePage, the Department of Health and Human Services has been plagued by chronic mismanagement and budget shortfalls that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

      The Department has squandered taxpayer dollars on a failed MaineCare rides contract and the controversial Alexander report, it has overpaid long-term care providers, and lost the state’s certification and federal funding for the Riverview Psychiatric Center. The Department is also under scrutiny for document shredding at the CDC and tampering with the public bidding process for smoking cessation dollars.

      Gattine has a proposed a measure, LD 1829, which would increase accountability and prevent fraud in the state’s anti-poverty and Medicaid programs. The bill would require an annual program integrity report on all fraud waste and abuse activities including provider and consumer prosecutions and on-going DHHS management issues.

      “We need to shed light on what’s happening at the Department,” said Gattine.

    The bill as amended passed the House last week, but only by a 92-52 margin. It next goes before the Senate this afternoon, as do LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842.

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