TANF caps may leave towns picking up the bill

STATE — Some town officials and advocates feel changes to state rules governing eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and adjustments to General Assistance (GA) programs are shifting costs from the state onto cities and towns.

TANF is a federal program that provides cash benefits to qualified families as a short-term measure to prevent extreme need.

The 2012 state budget includes a change in TANF eligibility that limits the amount of time that families can remain on the program to 60 months (five years).

Federal law imposes the five-year limit, but until June 1 this year, Maine extended TANF for families with state funds.

The change was implemented retroactively – families that were over the TANF limit were informed earlier in the year that their benefits would end on June 1.

John Martins, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) says that when the change was implemented, 2,100 people were over the 60-month limit.

Families can appeal and may qualify for an exemption or extension based on family health, disability, unemployment and other issues.

Others may turn to municipal GA for aid.

Buckfield Town Manager Dana Lee is frustrated by the changes to TANF, particularly since the state has also decreased its reimbursement to towns for GA spending, from 90 to 85 percent and reduced the "overall maximum" –  the amount a person or a family can live on –  by 10 percent from 2011.

"They just arbitrarily cut it down to make sure recipients don't get as much as last year," Lee says.

Personally, Lee sees the changes to TANF and GA as more examples of the state passing costs off to municipalities and local taxpayers.

He says that it is a process that has gone on for years, regardless of what political party is in power in Augusta.

"When the state's budget gets in crisis, you know who's going to foot the bill," he says.

"The state just abandons its responsibilities and shifts it to the towns and says 'you figure out how to fund it.'"

According to Lee, three people in Buckfield have been removed from the TANF program and one has approached the town for assistance.

In Oxford County, the GA maximum ranges from $442 per month for a single person to $1,130 for a family of five.

According to Lee, there are two budget items that towns are required to over-extend due to necessity – GA and winter road maintenance.

This means that if towns have many new, qualified GA applicants they will be required to aid them.

Buckfield only budgeted $2,400 for GA for fiscal year 2013.

Kate Dufour, a legislative advocate for the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), says it is impossible to know what the effect of the new TANF limits will be – people who applied for extensions or exemptions may not know if they have been approved yet. 

Nevertheless, Dufour estimates that 25 percent of those who are removed from TANF will turn to municipal GA.

She agrees with Lee's assessment that the new TANF limits represent a shift onto local taxpayers.

Shifting an entire group of people off of state assistance doesn't erase the need, Dufour says – recipients will seek aid from other sources.

Shannon Moxcey, a General Assistance Specialist with Community Concepts, is the new GA administrator for Norway and Paris, which have the two highest GA budgets in Oxford Hills – $110,000 and $56,897, respectively.

Moxcey says that she can't really anticipate how the TANF limits would affect Norway's GA account this early, but she has already met with several people who have reached the limit and are off the program.

Moxcey has been directing people to some incidental funds that are available through Department of Health and Human Services and pointing them to the TANF appeals process.

Paris Town Manager Phil Tarr calls the impact of the TANF caps "a looming problem," and agrees that the adjustments may leave towns paying the difference.

He says that the state has already reduced its funding for schools and state revenue sharing, putting the burden on local taxpayers.

For Oxford Hills, the TANF and GA adjustments may not have critical effects on town's finances, but the reduction in state reimbursement will still have an effect, Tarr says.

"It's probably going to affect the general assistance program in every town to some degree," he guesses. 

For cities like Portland and Lewiston, the changes may have serious consequences.

Lee says that the size of city GA programs means the loss of state reimbursement will have a bigger impact.

"If you take 5 percent of, let's say, a $5,000 General Assistance budget ... it's a small insult. But for the cities, that's going to be big money."

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

There is another solution to the problem, but...

There is one solution to the welfare problem, unfortunately it's very unpopular. First of all it should be known that I had an ongoing fight, with the DHHS, or DHS, as it was known as then, for about twenty years ending in about 2002.
I worked hard for many years, in one career I retired at forty-four years of age after twenty four years. All that time I paid into the system. I then went back to school, earned another degree, and started a new career. This new job paid much better than my old job, and my old job paid very well. Now lets fast forward a little to the present. I got sick and as a result will never be able to work again, although I'd love to. I now get Social Security, and Medicare. I pay about three hundred dollars per month on my medicare and prescription and supplemental. It's not free. My doctor told me I should eat better, being a bachelor, that shouldn't come as any surprise. The problem is to eat healthy, with my minimal ability to prepare proper meals, ( which I used to love to do), can get expensive. So after several years I thought about getting food stamps. Talk about a pipe dream. I was told that if only I hadn't worked so many years and earned as much as I do on SS, they could help me. And not just with food stamps, they said I could probably get heating assistance, rental assistance, and who knows what else. So there you have it, if you want to keep someone from getting assistance from the state, make them work for a living before they request help. Guaranteed to work every time........

Sandra Coulombe's picture

Instead of worrying about

Instead of worrying about frivolous expenditures on drug testing, those are not free ya know and there are a lot fewer druggies as a percentage of those on welfare than most think there is, lets do something productive instead. A much more productive cost to lowering poverty over all as well as reducing the welfare rolls is simple, every female of child bearing capability in a household on assistance should be required to be on birth control shots. No Shot, No Check and no future check if/when she gets pregnant from refusing to use the free birth control! Children are a responsibility not a right! Having more babies is not a path out of poverty it is a path of perpetuating poverty on yourself and your children.

Here Here! I offer a solution, rather than a rant

I find the fact that this state even has this issue at all, disheartening. Instead of posting [like so many others have before me] how the system is failing I would instead like to make a post of what I feel would help the people of Maine. We know its failing and we know mostly why, but what we do about it is what is important. Spouting off about what is fair and what isn't when it’s someone elses money is not helping the situation at all, even if it gives us the temporary satisfaction of being heard.
I wish there was a way to help them learn to take pride in what they do, take pride in being Mainers and bring back the feelings that Maine people are known for. Hard working and always willing to share whatever you have, that's what I grew up believing was everyone's goal. It wasn't till I moved to this city, that I found out what it was really like. I worked from the age of 13 [local farms nearby needed help and I needed to help support my family]. I was the oldest of six kids and felt it was my duty to help care for my family. My dad worked hard, but we still barely scraped by.
So that said here is my solution, I would love to see the system work like this; each and every person who depends on the welfare system as their sole source of income should be required to take a mandatory drug test [each month, before getting their check]...if it is not prescribed to you and its in your system, you loose your assistance [tobacco included] no exceptions. Maine-care now pays for quit smoking help so there is no excuse why you can't quit or find another way to pay for it. I am not against smoking [or even others using drugs], just against the state paying for it. Just this rule alone would cut assistance in half. There is assistance for those who want so desperately to get off drugs and other addictions as well, and those who don't should be required to pay their own way. You want to smoke and do drugs, great, do it with your own hard earned money, not with the government and states help.
Next, I feel that there should be some sort of work program that people could do, exchange volunteer hours for assistance. If companies and businesses can pay for someone to "job shadow" someone who is unable to work alone [which I think is awesome by the way] then they can assign people to do volunteer work as well. Maybe figure out a way to exchange one person free babysitting for another work at XYZ's store. This way no one is excluded. The elderly, the unfit, the disabled and the children would be excluded to a certain degree, but they should get a note from their Dr. stating that they cannot do anything, otherwise doing little things would help raise their self esteem, make them feel useful and loved and possibly even reduce anxiety and stress.
I also feel that teaching people how to cook and how to budget [shame on the parents who never taught them] so that they can make what they have go so much further. Instead of buying junk and running out before the month is over, buy good wholesome healthy food, and cook it themselves. If they aren’t working, why do they need convenience foods? I worked 2 full time jobs and still taught my girls how to cook, clean, etc. so that’s not an excuse either. Another thought that came to mind while writing this is that, as a part of this agreement, they would get a bus pass to the grocery store, so that they didn’t have to depend on running to the corner store all the time for overpriced foods and not enough variety, or friends and family who can barely pay their own gas, to take them.
I believe this should be something that a person could stay on for lets say two years and then they need to get a job, which they will have acclimated into by then. It would help so many and cost a whole lot less than what the system is paying out now. It would help the people of Maine feel good about themselves and help people have more respect for themselves and others. I wish all many blessings always and hope that some day things will change for the betterment of Maine’s People, and not just those who are in charge.

Robert McQueeney's picture

Everybody should be working

I've had opportunity over the past decades and recently to work in low income housing, many units. There are very few cases where the recipient COULD NOT work. By and large, they all could. The ones who were in the worst condition, very old and ill, were the ones who did the most. Those were the ones cleaning the litter in the yard, sweeping the common halls. Doing what they could. Sadly, those cases are few and far between. Very few, and very far.

Mostly what I see is people who are more or less able bodied to some extent, sitting around, smoking butts, plenty of beer, and surprisingly, plenty of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Don't they own a coffee pot? Is everyone aware of how much a cup of DD coffee costs? Those are pretty much constants, along with multi colored hair, "new age" haircuts, and tatoos. It's interesting that they can afford that kind of stuff, while I look long and hard for a decent $10.00 haircut.

The difference between my $10.00 haircut and their spendy haircuts? I work for my money, and have some of it forcefully taken away from me and just given to people who won't work. I know how long I worked on a hot roof, sweating profusely, just to afford that haircut. "They" have no idea.

What about all their electronics? Blackberries and I-phones, gameboys, computers? If they can operate a gameboy and a PC for hours on end, why can't they operate a cash register and earn their own money?

A single mom, who can't afford to get a babysitter for work? Do you know how many babysit for extra income while receiving benefits? Much of it unclaimed?

This is not a case of can't, but rather a case of won't.

Denisa Laflamme's picture

a short term solution became a long term problem

Fact is welfare programs were designed to be short term solutions to help those who needed it to get back on their feet, but the problem is it became a lifestyle for many and not just here in Maine. Across the country this program is being abused and people are raising their families on it. I have come across many in our Maine communities that are more than capable of working and providing for their families but CHOOSE to have the system provide for their families and that is sad. I do agree with someone else's post that their are folks who CANT work and need that assistance but honestly there are many who can and just choose not to. As far as the excuse well I am a single mom and cant, to me that is a lame excuse. I have been a single mother for many years and I have not had an issue in providing for my family without living on the welfare system. I also know other single mothers who have been able to provide for their families. For many, it isn't about cant it is about not wanting to. Fact is everyone is tired of supporting these people who are capable of working but choose not to, this has been going on for years and years and folks are getting sick of it. So for those that don't want to get off their lazy butts, they need to get a job and support themselves and stop leaving it up to the rest of us who have always been providing for our families and theirs.

 's picture

Kudos Denisa

You are 100% correct. To bad those that be can't see this as most of us have seen it all our lives and its getting worse. My son will be 50 yrs. old shortly and I was a single Mother for 45 of those yrs. We didn't get stamps, TANF or any other kind of assistance as I worked and worked alot. Now there is more pregnancies, less consequences and more free stuff then ever. Why can a girl just keep having one baby after another and we have to keep supporting them. Not to mention that there seems to be enough money for a daily pack of Marlboro's at more than 7 dollars a pack, If you are getting enough money per month to buy cigarettes then you need a reduction on that monthly handout. The excuse that "I can't quit" is crap. If the money wasn't so plentiful you might have to quit. When your in line in the store and someone with "their card" gets groceries then has enough money to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets there is something wrong with the system and someone has to be smart enough to figure it out. They will say you can't buy cigarettes etc. with the card but you go to the service desk and can withdraw 200 dollars. Just why is that allowed and what do you think they do with that cash? Those that need a handup are not getting it cause of to many getting a handout. They pass a law that you can't smoke in a car with a child but these girls are smoking while pregnant and on their way to getting signed up for all the freebies and 6 grownups smoking in the house where the babies already born are living and keep adding more. There is no incentive to go to work because of the system and its getting worse all the time. What a generation that is gonna be in years to come. God Help Us All. You hear "I can't live on a few hours work at Burger King and I say then get a few hours at McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts or whatever. You do what you have to do. Instead of families supporting that lifestyle for their child they should be supporting them into working and if they are the ones furnishing the cigarettes then Shame on You.

 's picture

It's time

It's time that those who are capable of working to get off their butt and start providing for their own needs, even if it means sweeping streets,cutting brush shoveling snow for the town their from.Granted there are some cases especially with the elderly that would not be possible.

If an applicant applies for assistance the town should deduct a set amount for each tattoo, and or body piercing they have, which in most cases was originally bought with welfare money anyway.

 's picture

They are

The elderly can't; children under 16 can't; mothers with infants can't; so who is left. Instead of these delusions of thousands of people sitting on their butts who can work, we should deal with reality - thousands can't. Then we have the obvious mindless prejudice that what people look like determines their value. 100 years ago that meant no help for Irish here, blacks in the south, or chinese on the west coast. Let's move on and bury ignorance.

 's picture

Bury ignorance!

Well said Mr. Albrecht! Unfortunately, some people will always judge ALL by the mear appearance and actions of a very few! In society today it seems we no longer look at the forrest through the trees. Judge everyone and keep your own mind clear....this is NOT what my father taught me thank heavens!!!!

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Well put Kathy....

Its getting harder to be disabled. You almost have to meet a certain criteria. I'm 54, I'm about 6'1'', two hundred twenty five pounds, and look very normal. I've had people give me the evil eye seeing me stand next to my car in a handicapped spot. They usually don't stick around long enough to see me walk. I could sell tickets to that show. I once commented in a post a while ago that sometimes I wish I had a leg fall off, then I wouldn't have to explain my disability so much. I've learned to ignore most everything, people just need to know that not all disabled people look it.....

 's picture

Thankfully I'm not disabled

but have spent the last decade on and off crutches every couple of weeks. I am amazed at the arrogance, cruelty, and heartlessness and envy of those people who don't know the conditions under which other people live and then judge their lives. Everyone knows someone who is gaming the welfare system (they never name them) but some how its never the businessmen who provide services its only the consumers of those services. Our Speaker of the House steals $1.6 million from Medicare and its - Oh! he didn't do any such thing; the rules were just confusing. But let some woman with three kids all with no means of support cash a welfare check for $1.50 over what she was eligibile for and they will be demanding a life without parole sentence.

 's picture

Frank

Its for this very reason that the system needs cleaning up. The only ones responding to this problem seem to be the legitimate ones which are hurt the most cause of the money going to young girls having babies as well as the lazy ones that won't work or those that decided they didn't need an education so now can't find anything if they did look so don't bother but see most of them with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. People are getting so fed up that they now look at anyone that is living off the system even if legitmate as those that are working are having a hard time as well are sick of supporting them. Those that are getting help or at some point might through no fault of their own should be as mad at whats going on as anyone as its not gonna be there cause we have to build nurseries in the grade schools and buy cigarettes. I had to work to get a pay check and now you just have to keep having a baby and apparently there is no limit. A young couple now can live together and be everything but married and have a baby and she can go sign up for all the programs as a single Mother and am there is alot of that going on cause thats the requirement."Be a single Mother"

 's picture

Thanks Wilma

A better example of heartless, judgemental, delusions I couldn't make up

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