Associated Press: Maine begins issuing photo ID welfare cards
BANGOR – Maine on Monday began issuing welfare benefit cards with photos on them in an effort to crack down on fraud and abuse, despite urging from the federal government to wait until it can ensure the state’s plan doesn’t negatively affect recipients or retailers.
John Martins, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said about 30 photo electronic benefit transfer cards were issued at the Bangor office as of midday.
The process is starting on a voluntary basis in Bangor first so the state can try out the new system. Eventually, welfare recipients across Maine will be required to have photos on their cards, which are used to buy food and other necessities.
Some recipients, like those younger than 19 and those 60 or older, will be exempt.
In a letter Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked Maine to delay issuing the new cards until it can fully review and approve the state’s plan. USDA officials said Maine could lose federal funding or face litigation if it violates regulations in the program.
Advocates for the poor say photos on EBT cards are ineffective at combating fraud and are costly.
The startup costs are $165,922, according to the department. It will cost the state $4,154 annually going forward.
DHHS said Friday it would move forward with its plan, saying that the federal government’s opposition “defies common-sense logic.”
Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the one-office launch will help the state identify potential problems and weaknesses with the new system before cards across the state are required to have photos.
Maine Unemployment Rate Drops Again to 5.9 Percent
Maine Hiring Continues to Outpace National Average
AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Labor announced today that the state’s unemployment rate continues to drop. In March, the percentage of Mainers who were unemployed fell to 5.9 percent, marking the first time the figure has been under 6 percent since 2008.
Maine’s 5.9 percent unemployment rate is well below the national average of 6.7 percent.
According to Governor Paul LePage’s Office, the number of private sector jobs is up 9,100 over the past year. Those increases have been seen primarily in professional and business services, retail trade, leisure and hospitality, education, healthcare, and financial activities.
Senator Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot), who serves on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, says it’s another example of Republican efforts to improve Maine’s business climate paying off.
“Once again, the sound fiscal policies and accountability of our Governor, supported by Republicans in the Legislature, have encouraged small and large business owners in Maine to take the risk of expanding their businesses and creating new jobs. The real winners are the hard-working people of Maine.”
The 5.9 percent unemployment rate is down from 6.1 percent last month, and 6.8 percent one year ago. The number of unemployed in Maine declined 6,700 over the past year to 41,800.
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Senate Republican Leader Says GOP Accomplished Much for Maine Citizens, Despite Being in Minority
AUGUSTA – Maine lawmakers worked into the early hours of Friday, April 18 before finishing the work of the Second Regular Session of the 126th Legislature. The second session of the Legislature is the shorter of the two and typically concludes in April. The first session lasts until June.
Senate Republican leader Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo) says Republicans, despite being in the minority, were able to make major gains on behalf of Maine citizens. The Maine Senate is comprised of 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans, and 1 Independent.
Senator Thibodeau said paying back nearly a half billion dollars in debt to Maine hospitals that was the result of Medicaid services that went unpaid was among the top accomplishments. “That debt was a black eye for Maine,” Senator Thibodeau said. “In addition to affecting our credit rating, it represented a failure to pay our bills. Thanks to Governor Paul LePage and Republican leadership in the Legislature, we were able to pay down this debt, and in the process secure a state liquor contract that maximizes the proceeds of liquor sales for the State of Maine.
Assistant Senate Republican Leader Statement on Bond Package
“I think this is a great example of the good things that happen when the Legislature works together in a bipartisan way.
“This is a solid package which focuses on job creation. Many of the proposals come from the collaborative efforts of the Workforce Development Committee that spent a full year listening to dozens of businesses and educators from across the state about where we would get the most bang for our buck through bonding. As a member of that Committee, I was glad to see so many of those ideas make the cut, given that our bonding capacity is limited.
“These are targeted, thoughtful investments in proven small business loan programs, our biomedical research sector, Maine’s marine economy, the University of Maine, and clean water infrastructure. Every single one of these proposals will leverage a significant additional private or federal government match, multiplying manyfold the impact of what we do. I hope each of these bond questions will have the enthusiastic support of the Governor and, ultimately, Maine voters.”
Senator Roger Katz (R-Kennebec)