Maine’s tea party governor, reared in poverty, is on a mission to reform the state’s welfare system.
Gov. Paul LePage rolled out a four-proposal package on Monday that will get committee hearings in the legislature Tuesday afternoon. The reforms, which mostly tighten restrictions around the program, are part of an ongoing crusade against what LePage has described as a bloated program.
“Big, expensive welfare programs riddled with fraud and abuse threaten our future,” he said in his state of the state speech last month. “Too many Mainers are dependent on government handouts. Government dependency has not — and never will— create prosperity.”
In January, LePage released data showing welfare benefit cards had been used as debit cards or at ATM’s in smoke shops, sports pubs or strip clubs 3,701 times from Jan. 1, 2011, through Nov. 15, 2013. But, according to calculations from the Bangor Daily News, that amounts to roughly two-tenths of 1 percent of such transactions overall. Democrats have criticized LePage for signing a no-bid contract worth $925,000 for a welfare study.
LePage’s new reform package would enact further requirements on welfare recipients and restrict where and how recipients can use the benefits. One bill would require applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, known as welfare, to apply in writing to three advertised jobs—a practice already in place to varying degrees in 19 other states. Another bill bans the use of benefit cards out of state, while a third restricts the items that can be bought using benefits. (Louisiana just last week banned the use of benefits at lingerie shops, jewelry stores, tattoo parlors.)
A final bill tightens education, training and work requirements for getting benefits and eliminates the Parents as Scholars program, which allows parents in college to continue receiving benefits.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D, said his party “will support any good-faith effort to strengthen our anti-poverty programs and root out fraud or abuse,” but cutting the Parent As Scholars program isn’t one of them, according to the Portland Press Herald.