If you receive government assistance in the state of Maine, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald thinks the public has a right to know about it.
In a Thursday column for the Twin City Times, Macdonald said a bill will be submitted during Maine’s next legislative session “asking that a Web site be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole.”
He added: “After all, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent.”
Proposals to target welfare recipients and reform assistance programs have become lightning rods for broader discussions on how the poor are treated and how taxpayer dollars are used.
Kansas lawmakers received both national criticism and praise this summer after approving a law limiting how people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program can use their benefits. And at least 13 states have some sort of drug testing laws for public public assistance applicants or recipients.
Macdonald, a local Republican mayor who is up for reelection in November, can’t submit a state bill himself, so he would need a state lawmaker to back the plan in the legislature.
In his column Thursday, he wrote that Maine has a Web site listing the pension amounts individuals receive — something “taxpayers have a right to know,” he said — and wondered why welfare recipients’ information isn’t also publicly posted.
“The answer: our liberal, progressive legislators and their social-service allies have made them a victimized, protected class,” Macdonald wrote. “It’s none of your business how much of your money they get and spend. Who are you to question it? Just shut up and pay!”
The mayor, first elected in 2011, has been a vocal critic of government assistance programs in the past, and his tendency to not mince words has earned him the spotlight. His remarks that immigrants should “leave your culture at the door” sparked small protests and calls for his resignation after they were included in a BBC documentary that aired on Sept. 11, 2012.
Lewiston — with about 36,000 residents — is one of Maine’s most populous cities and has become home to many Somali refugees. Macdonald later attempted to clarify his remarks, saying that they were taken out of context and that he never said anything disparaging about the Somali community.
In 2014, Macdonald said Lewiston couldn’t afford to become a “dumping ground” for asylum-seeking refugees moving from other parts of the state. In 2013, he launched a citywide effort aimed at “welfare cheats” and kicked 80 people off assistance; criminal charges were pressed against a handful for fraud.
“We’re not going to be known as a welfare town anymore,” Macdonald said in March 2013. “If you want to come here, don’t come here for welfare because if we catch you, you will be prosecuted.”
Asked about Thursday’s column, Macdonald told the Portland Press Herald that he’s “not sorry. I hope this makes people think twice about applying for welfare.”
Of people receiving benefits, he said: “Go into the grocery store. They flaunt it.” Publicly posting personal information, he said, could encourage people to go after those “gaming the system.”
He added he doesn’t care whether some people who rightly receive benefits could be hurt, saying: “Some people are going to get harmed but if it’s for the good of everybody, that’s the way it is.”
Ben Chin, Macdonald’s Democratic opponent, told the Press Herald that the mayor’s latest plan was nothing more than a political stunt.
“Mayor Macdonald has been in office for four years and he’s done nothing to lower our poverty rate and make our city better,” Chin told the paper. “Instead, he likes to scapegoat and publicly embarrass people.”