Democrats unveil 'Welfare that Works' reform package

Posted: March 10, 2016 | Health and Human Services, Senator Alfond
Sen. Alfond, at podium, addresses reporters about Democrats' plan for Welfare that Works.

Sen. Alfond, at podium, addresses reporters about Democrats’ plan for Welfare that Works.

Plan restores accountability, puts Mainers to work, prevents fraud and abuse

AUGUSTA — Maine’s Democratic leaders on Thursday unveiled “Welfare that Works,” a package of policy proposals to transform the current welfare system to better address fraud and abuse and more effectively lift Mainers out of poverty.

Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, were flanked by members of both chambers as they described rising frustration with a system that isn’t working.

“Mainers, we’re listening. You’re right. Our welfare system is broken. It’s not helping lift Mainers out of poverty and it’s too susceptible to fraud and abuse,” Eves said. “Our plan restores accountability to the system, targets benefits to the things families really need, and gets people back to work by opening the doors to the education and training they need to get good-paying jobs. It’s time for lawmakers to come together and implement a real solution.”

“For too long, politicians have used welfare as a political football, bickering back and forth while Mainers’ lives and taxpayer dollars hanged in the balance,” Alfond said. “The truth is, welfare isn’t working for Maine taxpayers, and it’s not working for those Mainers trying to pull themselves out of poverty. Hunger is growing. Extreme poverty is growing. Homelessness continues to plague our state. Welfare that Works fixes problems in the system by implementing safeguards to prevent abuse while providing Mainers the tools they need to get off welfare and into jobs — nothing more, nothing less.”

Cornerstones of the new proposal include stopping welfare abuse before it happens, targeting benefits for housing while reducing the amount of cash in the system, and focusing on job training and education programs so Mainers can get off welfare and into jobs.

‘Welfare that Works’ implements the following policies:

  • Product Ban: Welfare that Works blocks the use of EBT cards to purchase items including tattoos, lottery tickets, alcohol and other products that don’t help Mainers climb the economic ladder.
  • Targeted Housing Assistance, Cash Reduction: Welfare that Works reduces cash assistance currently in the system by approximately $5 million and converts a portion of cash assistance into a housing reimbursement paid directly to landlords.
  • Targeted Provision of Benefits: Welfare that Works recognizes and addresses the different reasons Mainers fall on hard times, including domestic violence, mental or physical illness, and unemployment. It builds customized bridges to independence that include transitional jobs, training and education, and streamlined coordination of appropriate services to ensure Mainers get the tools they need to succeed.
  • Improved Accountability and Citizen Oversight: Welfare that Works increases accountability and effectiveness throughout the welfare system. The plan calls for measurable benchmarks to ensure welfare programs effectively lift families out of poverty, and get Mainers back to work. It also establishes a Citizen Oversight Board, empowering Maine people to be the watchdogs that make sure welfare works.

The Democrat’s proposal comes at time of increasing need for Maine’s communities and families. Over the past five years, extreme poverty for children has increased by 50 percent statewide, and food insecurity for families has increased by 10 percent.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will consider the two bills that constitute the Welfare that Works package at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 10. The bills are sponsored by the committee’s House chair, Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, and Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston.