Senator Eric Brakey Presents Slew of Welfare Reform Proposals
Augusta – Senator Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin) today presented six measures to reform Maine’s welfare programs in front of the Health and Human Services Committee.
In addition to the six proposed bills, Senator Brakey also proposed amending at least one of the measures to include a six-month income look-back for General Assistance applicants, in order to ensure that people who may make a large amount of regular income during a seasonal job are not able to take improper advantage of the system.
“Maine needs to be protecting our truly needy citizens. There are far too many avenues for folks to take advantage of the system and receive benefits that are funded through hardworking Mainers’ tax dollars,” said Senator Brakey. “In recent months, it has become abundantly clear that General Assistance is not being administered in the most effective or efficient manner. By implementing certain reforms, and ensuring that the state and municipalities are aligned on eligibility requirements, we will be vastly improving Maine’s safety nets.”
Senator Brakey also addressed concerns about LD 1037, “An Act To Establish a 180-day Residency Requirement for Welfare Benefits,” and its similarity to legislation in other states that have been struck down by the federal courts.
“I am willing to explore changing this bill to address the issues similar legislation has faced in other states. However, I believe it is worth it to try implementing a residency requirement in Maine if it improves our state,” said Senator Brakey. “Anyone arriving in Maine to seek the American Dream---an opportunity to find honest work, put food on the table for their family, and contribute to our Maine economy---should be welcomed with open arms. But Maine is a poor rural state with a very generous welfare system. We cannot afford to take care of those choosing to come to Maine, not for work opportunities, but for welfare opportunities. We do not want a welfare magnet, attracting individuals to our state looking to sign-up on day one for our generous welfare system. We must instead build a strong economic magnet, attracting immigration to Maine because of a vibrant economy with plentiful work opportunities.”
Below are the bills Senator Brakey presented this afternoon, along with brief summaries:
LD 368 : An Act To Integrate the State's General Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Programs
This bill provides that a person who has exhausted the 60-month lifetime limit on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program benefits is ineligible to receive municipal general assistance program benefits.
LD 369: An Act To Align Municipal General Assistance Programs with the
Immigration Status Policies of the Department of Health and Human Services
This bill provides that a person who has been determined ineligible to receive benefits administered by the Department of Health and Human Services on the basis of a law, rule, or regulation related to that person's immigration status, is ineligible to receive municipal general assistance program benefits.
LD 722: An Act To Strengthen Penalties for Abuse of General Assistance
This bill provides that a person who makes a false representation of a material fact to obtain municipal general assistance is ineligible to receive further assistance for a period of the longer of 120 days and until that reimbursement is made. Current law provides for a period of ineligibility of 120 days.
LD 1035: An Act To Create a 9-month Time Limit on General Assistance Benefits
This bill limits to a maximum of 275 days every 5 years the general assistance benefits a person who does not have any dependents and who is capable of working may receive.
LD 1036: An Act To Prioritize Use of Available Resources in General Assistance Programs
This bill makes an applicant for general assistance who voluntarily abandons or refuses to
use an available resource without just cause ineligible to receive general assistance to replace the abandoned resource for a period of 120 days from the date the applicant abandons the resource. The bill defines "available resource" as a resource that is immediately available or can be secured without delay. The bill also makes an applicant who forfeits an available resource due to fraud, misrepresentation or intentional violation or refusal to comply with rules without just cause ineligible to receive general assistance to replace the forfeited resource for the duration of the sanction imposed on the applicant for violation of a rule or 120 days, whichever is greater. The bill identifies circumstances relating to use of an available resource under which just cause must be found.
LD 1037: An Act To Establish a 180-day Residency Requirement
for Welfare Benefits
This bill establishes a 180-day residency requirement for applicants for the MaineCare program, the statewide food supplement program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and municipal general assistance.
Republicans Submit Measure to Bail Out Portland Merchants and Consumers
Augusta – Republicans in the Legislature have stepped up to help the city of Portland avoid additional confusion and taxes when the city’s self-imposed fee on paper and plastic bags goes into effect next week.
Portland’s City Council voted to implement a surcharge on paper and plastic bags that will take effect this April 15th. LD 590, “An Act To Exempt a Fee for a Paper or Plastic Single-use Carry-out Bag from Tax,” is sponsored by Senator Tom Saviello (R-Franklin), and co-sponsored by several other Republican Senators and Representatives. The bill exempts paper and plastic bag fees from the state sales tax.
Without swift passage of Senator Saviello’s bill, merchants in the city will have to collect sales tax on the fee charged for paper and plastic bag usage, creating an additional accounting and bookkeeping burden for businesses. No other state taxes bag fees.
“I’ve been working with merchants in the city to craft this bill, as they face enough challenges without having to come up with an additional sales tax formula for paper and plastic bag usage,” said Senator Saviello. “Portland’s City Council created this problem, and my aim is to find a solution that helps to ease the burden on small businesses. LD 590 does that.”
The legislation has initially passed in the Senate, and is expected to be taken up by the House of Representatives on Thursday.
Maine Senate President Sponsors Welfare Reform Legislation
AUGUSTA – Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo) today announced he is the sponsor of a sweeping welfare reform bill that is designed to make recipients accountable to Maine taxpayers.
Thibodeau made his comments today at a news conference in the Cabinet Room at the Maine State Capitol and was joined by Governor Paul LePage, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner (DHHS) Mary Mayhew, and two former recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits who are now on their own without government assistance.
The welfare reform bill is similar in many ways to several bills that were proposed in the 126th Legislature and were blocked by partisans on the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee who either rejected the bills outright or weakened already existing rules while attempting to pass this off as “reform.”
“This action is long overdue by the Maine Legislature, and that’s why I am pleased to support this legislation,” Senate President Thibodeau said. “Given the makeup of the 127th Legislature, I believe it has a much better chance to pass this time around, and that will be a win for the Maine taxpayer.”
Among the highlights of the welfare reform bill:
- A work requirement for job-ready TANF applicants (must apply for 3 jobs before receiving benefits)
- Prohibits use of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards outside of Maine Legislature
- Prohibits benefits from being used for tobacco, liquor, gambling, lottery, tattoos, and bail
- Imposes a 6 month termination of benefits after the third failure violation of regulations
In the next few weeks, the welfare reform bill is expected to be introduced to the HHS Committee for consideration.
Senate President Says Budget Bill Addresses Most Pressing Needs
AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate today passed a supplemental spending package to address shortfalls in the current state budget.
Among the highlights of the budget bill are funding for 29 positions at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta in order to address staffing problems there.
It also includes more than $2.4 million to cover funding shortfalls at Maine’s county jails.
“I would like to thank members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) Committee for their hard work on these issues,” Senate President Thibodeau said.
“From the very beginning of this process, they have had a clear focus on the spending priorities for Riverview and our jails.
“Today was a good day for the Maine Legislature. Hopefully the unanimous vote on this budget bill will set the tone for the rest of the session.”
Senator Jim Hamper (R-Oxford), who is the Chair of the AFA Committee said, “Passage of LD 236 is a step in the right direction for ensuring that state funding goes where it is most needed. I am pleased it received unanimous support in the Appropriations Committee and in the Senate, and am hopeful this bodes well for our work on the biennial budget.”