Governor Introduces Transformative Welfare Reform Bill

April 6, 2015

AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage on Monday announced his introduction of a comprehensive welfare reform bill that combines elements of welfare reform legislation previously before the legislature with a new initiative. The Governor introduced the bill, “An Act Concerning Reforms to Maine’s Welfare Programs,” at the State House, joined by Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Mary Mayhew, Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette, and two Mainers who have made the successful transition from welfare to work.

“We will only move Mainers from poverty to prosperity if we are willing to bring accountability to the welfare system and create an expectation of work among those who are on it,” said Governor LePage. “This legislation is about a fundamental culture shift in Maine’s economy and government—one that is underway, but is not yet complete.”

Former welfare recipients spoke of their experiences with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program as a temporary hand up to help them transition to a life of financial independence, and their support of reforms to deter inappropriate use of the benefits.

The Governor’s reform legislation would make the following changes:

  1. Require job-ready TANF applicants to apply for three jobs before receiving benefits.
  2. Prohibit the access of Maine TANF benefits by EBT cards outside of Maine.
  3. Prohibit TANF benefits from being expended on tobacco, liquor, imitation liquor, gambling, lottery tickets, tattoos, and bail.
  4. Removes all exceptions to the requirement that TANF recipients participate in the TANF-ASPIRE employment program, except for the domestic violence exception.
  5. Reduces the 24-month limit on education, training, and treatment for ASPIRE-TANF participants to 12 months to conform with federal guidelines and avoid federal penalties.
  6. Strengthens penalties for TANF program violations by imposing a 6-month termination of benefits upon the third sanction.
  7. Makes changes to the Alternative Aid program to align it with the TANF program, preventing TANF recipients from using Alternative Aid as a loophole to avoid the 60-month cap on TANF benefits.

Elements of the bill were introduced by Governor LePage and Republican lawmakers in 2014 but were killed by majority Democratic lawmakers. Others, including changes to the Alternative Aid program, strengthened sanctions for violations, and the prohibition of the purchase of tattoos with TANF funds, are new proposals this year.

“Mainers spoke loudly in favor of welfare reform this November and the composition of the legislature has changed as a result,” said Governor LePage. “I am hopeful that lawmakers will listen to Maine people and vote in a bipartisan manner in support of these important reforms.”

Maine’s DHHS has recently engaged in a highly successful welfare-to-work program in collaboration with the Departments of Labor and Education. In the past year, the program has provided vocational assessments to 2,079 welfare recipients, placing 856 of them in jobs or work experiences.

Maine’s active TANF cases have dropped from a high of 14,804 in 2011 to 6,191 as of March 2015 as a result of this collaborative and Maine’s becoming the 44th state to enact a 60-month cap on TANF benefits.

“Before Governor LePage came to office, Maine’s welfare system was focused not on transitioning people to work but on ensuring they get as many benefits as possible, for as long as possible,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “We have redefined our goals and are working every day to strengthen the integrity of our programs while helping those receiving them to achieve the life-changing benefits of work and independence. However, we need additional tools to strengthen the system that can only come by way of legislation, and it is my sincere hope that both parties will come together to support this bill.”

The Governor’s bill is being sponsored by Senate President Michael Thibodeau, with House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette as lead co-sponsor, and is expected to receive a public hearing before the legislative committee of jurisdiction in the coming weeks.