Governor Aims to Fix Maine’s Welfare Law to Comply with Federal Rule

January 3, 2014

For Immediate Release: Friday, Jan. 3 Contact: Adrienne Bennett, Press Secretary, 207-287-2531

AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage today announced he will introduce a bill to repeal a state law that prevents Maine from complying with federal requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The federal government requires that TANF recipients must work, but Maine has enacted many exemptions that allow them to get around the work requirement.

Under Maine statute, an individual may not be penalized under the TANF program for failure to participate in the ASPIRE-TANF work program, if that failure is based on “good cause.” Exemptions from work are now allowed if there is inclement weather; an illness; a lack of transportation; or several other “good causes.”

“We must fix this Maine law in order to comply with federal law,” said Governor LePage. “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.”

Since 2011, the LePage Administration has taken an active, work-focused approach in addressing welfare reform and continues to advocate for programs that will support those in need. Repealing the legislation would preserve federal work requirements for TANF and remove the state exemptions that allow recipients to collect welfare benefits without working.

On Friday, Governor LePage met and informed Legislative leadership that if the State of Maine does not address this problem, the federal government is attempting to penalize the State upwards of $10 million in fines for 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 as a result of not meeting federal requirements.

The Governor said the bill simply repeals the exemptions in the Maine law, which is so lenient they prevent the State from achieving the 90 percent federal work participation standards. The Governor intends to introduce the legislation within the first few weeks of the second regular session of the 126th Legislature. The Legislature convenes on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

This is not the first time the LePage Administration has changed the law in order to follow federal standards. Effective April of 2012, TANF recipients were limited to five years of benefits, conforming Maine’s benefit duration to the federal rules adopted as part of the 1996 Federal Welfare Reform legislation.

The TANF caseload has declined from approximately 15,000 cases in January 2011 to approximately 7,752 cases in December of 2013. This reflects a decrease in nearly half of all TANF cases – 48.3 percent. “Ultimately, the goal is to move people from welfare to work. The best way out of poverty is a good job,” said Governor LePage.

Note of Interest: President Bill Clinton enacted reforms in 1996 that required beneficiaries of a new welfare program (TANF) to either work or prepare for a job. President Clinton proclaimed these reforms would “end welfare as we know it.” However, TANF is only 1 of 77 federal programs that provide benefits specifically to poor and low-income Americans, and combined state and federal welfare spending has almost doubled since 1996.

The Maine Legislature implemented welfare work requirements to the TANF program in 1993. The statute was updated in 1997.

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