By Gov. Paul LePage
For many years the State of Maine welfare system has gone unchecked, but that has changed under my administration.
Reform is not difficult when you’re doing it for the right reasons. Since 2011, we have made significant strides to improve our welfare system, which serves our most needy and vulnerable Mainers.
Our welfare system is designed to help our children and the elderly, our disabled and the mentally ill, as well as Mainers who need a temporary hand up. We must prioritize our limited resources to ensure they are assisting those in need and empowering Mainers to become self-sufficient.
In the last year, we have added more accountability to the system in a number of ways. We put photos on EBT cards; we eliminated the unauthorized out-of-state use of EBT cards; and we put more resources in our welfare to work programs.
We implemented drug testing for convicted felons who are on welfare; we are leading the country in enforcing federal work requirements for people on food stamps; and we are making sure that our local tax dollars are being used to assist Mainers, not illegal aliens.
In April, the State began putting photos on EBT cards. Today, we have put more than 14,000 photos on EBT cards. That is more than 14,000 Mainers who have voluntarily signed on to the new policy. Mainers understand the value and protection of having a picture on their card, and many EBT card holders have praised the administration for taking this step.
Earlier this year, we reported there were 365,000 out-of-state EBT transactions in 2013, totaling $13.9 million. Since April, we have identified about 150 intentional program violations within the TANF program. We have also shut off nearly 50 EBT cards for unauthorized, out-of-state use.
Fraud and misuse of welfare benefits continues to be a top priority for our administration. Holding offenders accountable is an important part of the process and deters people from defrauding the system. In 2009, only two cases of welfare fraud were referred to the Attorney General by the Baldacci administration. In 2010, there were only 12.
So far this year, we have referred 61 cases to the AG’s Office for criminal prosecution. Eight have been prosecuted.
During the great recession, the federal work requirements for people receiving food stamps were waived. This year, Maine is one of 17 states now reinstating the federal requirement. Able-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 50 who have no children now must volunteer or be involved in a work training program in order to receive food stamps.
We are helping to provide the skills and training to those who want it. In six months, more than 800 TANF recipients have been referred to our worksite program; more than 200 have been placed in work experiences; and another 121 people are now working. We are pleased that more than 600 Maine employers have agreed to participate in this program.
People who are in need deserve a hand up, but we should not be giving able-bodied individuals a handout. We must protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient.
The goal is to end generational poverty and get people back to work. We are making progress. Welfare reform does work when it is based on good public policy, not political rhetoric. More importantly, it helps our fellow Mainers get the skills and self-esteem they need to lead productive and satisfying lives.