Maine House defeats GOP efforts restricting welfare

AUGUSTA — The Maine House on Monday turned back a pair of Republican-backed bills that sought to add new restrictions to the state’s primary welfare cash assistance program.

One bill, which was defeated in an 85-55 vote, would have barred some convicted of drug crimes from receiving benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program. The other would have prohibited TANF recipients from cashing in their benefits for alcohol and tobacco. It would also have required recipients retain their receipts to prove to state auditors that their purchases complied with state law.

The measure to bar drug offenders from receiving TANF, LD 1443, was among a set of welfare-related measures proposed earlier this year by Gov. Paul LePage. The bill would have denied assistance to anyone convicted of a drug crime after Aug. 22, 1996, punishable by a year or more in prison. The prohibition would have applied to both current and future TANF recipients.

Democratic opponents argued the restriction would be overly punitive and would ultimately harm the children of those denied assistance.

“Maine would be an outlier if we enact this,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. “Whenever we’re talking about TANF and limiting TANF, we need to keep focus on, this is a program designed to help families with children.”

A two-year-old Maine law allows the state to cut off TANF benefits to drug felons convicted within the past 20 years who fail a series of drug tests. The state Department of Health and Human Services, however, hasn’t implemented that law because of the potential expense and the possibility the law wouldn’t stand up in court.

The benefits ban for convicted drug offenders would repeal that drug testing law and sidestep the issue of drug testing altogether.

In 2011, Florida began to require drug tests for all people seeking welfare benefits. The state carried out the policy for four months before a federal judge issued an injunction order that put the law on hold. During the four months the law was in effect, Florida saved no money from the policy and saw little change in the number of applications for welfare benefits, according to data the state released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from civil liberties groups.

Dale Denno, director of the Maine DHHS’ Office of Family Independence, told lawmakers at a May public hearing that there’s no public support for providing financial assistance to those convicted of drug crimes.

“LD 1443 recognizes the commonly-held belief that public financial assistance should not be provided to individuals who have been convicted of serious drug crimes,” he told members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

A bill that would have barred TANF recipients from using their benefits to buy tobacco products and alcoholic beverages, LD 1030, was defeated in a 74-66 vote.

Democratic opponents said the legislation would have imposed a significant administrative burden on the state Department of Health and Human Services while Republican supporters described it as a common-sense measure.

“I don’t think it’s practical,” said Gattine, who serves on the Health and Human Services Committee. “I don’t think it’s going to result in significant savings. I just think our resources could be focused in much more productive areas.”

The bill would require more than $350,000 over the next two years to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to hire two auditors and an accounting associate to carry out audits of TANF recipients. The bill would allow the department to audit up to 1 percent of TANF recipients — looking at six months’ worth of receipts they would be required to keep on file — to determine whether they spent benefits on prohibited items.

Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, said it wasn't an unreasonable expectation that those receiving public assistance keep receipts to ensure public money was being spent on what it was meant for.

"We are a caring society," Harvell said. "And we ought to be . . . but it is not wrong to also ask those being aided to participate in this equation as well."

He said the government also requires people keep receipts when they want to apply for various tax exemptions and credits.

"We help those, but those receiving aid owe nothing in return and at some point it has to stop," Harvell said.

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said the state currently has no way to make sure TANF recipients are using their benefits appropriately.

“We want to make sure folks get help,” she said. “We want to make sure they have the services and support they need. We want to make sure it’s done appropriately.”

Both bills now go to the Senate for consideration.

Sun Journal State Politics Editor Scott Thistle contributed to this report.

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Comments

ERNEST LABBE's picture

I have nothing against

I have nothing against helping people that really need help. However when setting up Mainecare for my mother who spent $220,000 of cash she and father saved during their WORKING lives on her nursing home care I had the pleasure of visiting the DHHS office in Lewiston on three occasions.

On every visit the waiting room had at least 50 people waiting to talk to a case manager. Of the 50 at least 40 of those people were under 30 years old. Every one of the younger people had an android type cell phone in their hand. Really they can afford android phones while we are paying for their basic needs.During short sleeve season I'm sure a great many tattoos could be seen also, and that's only the ones that can be seen.

A visit to their apartments would most likely shock the average taxpayer. A visit to ten apartments would surely show that at least 3 of them have an oversized HD tv. Such a visit would also show half have some type of alcoholic beverage on hand.

It's time to help the really needy Families and time to boot the free loading over spending types off of our backs.

In case your wondering I have just placed a brand new Bell crash helmet on my head to save any serious head injuries from those of you that either received assistance or those that don't mind supporting freeloaders.

Eric  LeBlanc's picture

Absurd proposal

The bill would have denied assistance to anyone convicted of a drug crime after Aug. 22, 1996, punishable by a year or more in prison. The prohibition would have applied to both current and future TANF recipients.

So if a former drug user is trying to clean up their life and get back on their feet they would be denied benefits because of something that happened nearly 20 years ago? That's absurd. Also, requiring receipts would be unreasonable considering that many of the recipients lack organization skills and are probably not capable of keeping meticulous records of their spending habits over a 6 month time period. These people are not accountants. Regarding Steve's comment on guns. Most guns are not used for suicide, robbery or rape. They're used for hunting, target practice and protection. You made some valid points but that one was way off base, lol.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Do we need a voters

Do we need a voters initiative that we want receipts as proof how money is spent to make sure they only spend money on things that help and not other things? I know people want to curtail fraud and spending within DHHS but there are ways to do it without getting into people's personal choices. If the powers that be would actually talk to those that are receiving benefits or who have received benefits in the past they would actually learn what to do to improve the program AND curtail any abuses, instead they just think they have all the answers when they really have no clue.

Bob White's picture

Tina what the hell do you

Tina what the hell do you know. Its not unreasonable to think we should stop people that are getting something for nothing from buying things that are not necessary to survive. Its a simple fix with computers at stores all they have to do is program it into the computers not to be able to perches these items with any government aid. Get your head out of the sand their is great waste of money from SOME of these people. Not the elderly that's not who I'm talking about but take a ride around in Tall Pines or any of the section 8 housing you will see all these 20 something's on their phones smoking cigs drinking energy drinks. WASTE WASTE and more WASTE. GET A CLUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Bob what the HELL do you

Bob what the HELL do you know? It is not unreasonable to think that there are more out there NOT abusing the system then there is abusing the system. Do you even know how much the benefits actually are? Why don't you get your head out of the sand and stop listening to all the people who are exaggerating, trying to scare others, do not have FACTS to back up what they are saying. Do you follow EVERY person who receives aid and see what they actually spend money on? How do you know they weren't given the stuff by others. Better yet why don't you look at the waste in your own town....oh wait...you probably know my alcoholic brother.

Bob White's picture

Well Tina If we use your

Well Tina If we use your thought process (lack of) if you take bank robberies and figure out per person in the country their really isn't that much so.... should we stop going after bank robbers? No that's foolish Or how about this I go home tonight and I get caught for speeding should I get a ticket? I don't speed very often. See Tina fraud is fraud stealing is stealing whether you steal a little bit or a lot its still stealing. The only people that would have to worry anyways are the people that are abusing the system. You can not justify that plan and simple. Its a real easy fix like I said just a computer entry away. I do some people that work at convenience stores and they see it everyday. As far as your brother I don't know him and if you were trying to say I drink with your brother well hate to disappoint you never dank a day in my life. Now get your head out of the sand

DONALD FERLAND's picture

You must be a blonde ( no

You must be a blonde ( no offense to the smart blondes out there)....when did it become okay to blame EVERYONE for the stupidity of a few. My point, which obviously went straight over your head, is that you are blaming all for the actions of a few. My point is that you only hear the negative but not the positive. There are actually more stories out there about people who had to go on the system for just reasons, such as domestic violence, that took the assistance, went to school, did what they had to do, got a job and got off the system. You do not hear those stories all you hear about is the fraud. Get ALL the facts not just the exaggerated ones.....get your head out of the sand and actually read what is said and not between the lines because you really miss the point. Oh and btw....the governor paying for his tv to try to force the democrats hands with tax payer money is another stupid use of taxpayer money. AND hospitals charging $500 to go from St. Mary's to D'Youville is FRAUD in a major way especially since there is a tunnel used on a daily basis by staff and others to go from one building to the other....WASTE, WASTE, AND MORE WASTE, WASTE.

Bob White's picture

Well practice what you preach

Well practice what you preach sister because your not reading what I'm writing either my first comment I said "people that are getting something for nothing from buying things that are not necessary to survive." AND "Not the elderly that's not who I'm talking about but take a ride around in Tall Pines or any of the section 8 housing you will see all these 20 something's on their phones smoking cigs drinking energy drinks" I think we are not that far away on what we are saying. We both think there are people out their that need and deserve help but come on you can not tell me you don't think their is some waste out their. I assume you work hard and the stuff you get you earn so if you earned it why shouldn't someone else have to earn it? I'm talking about the people that choose not to work hard but to wait for someone with a soft heart to give it to them. If you don't believe that their are people like that then I don't know what to say. FYI the tunnel at St.Mary's was built to transfer patients back and forth to save money but after it was built the hospital insurance said they would not cover the patient when going through the tunnel. That is the story I heard.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

And my point again...do you

And my point again...do you know for a fact that all these 20 somethings are receiving assistance? Do you know for a fact that they are choosing not to work or are not working because they got laid off or cannot find a job, find childcare, find transportation to work? You seem to be making a lot of ASSUMPTIONS based on where they live. I have never said there is NO fraud...I have said the fraud is all we hear about and we do not hear about ALL the ones doing the right thing. I have also used the hospital bill as an example of there being MANY types of fraud and ways to save money that are not even considered. If the insurance will not cover the transfer of patients through the tunnel there is still no way that it cost $500 for an ambulance ride across a street. I have also said that if the state would actually talk to the ones who have received benefits or are receiving benefits they would learn a number of ways to save money and stop the fraud. But again, people like to make ASSUMPTIONS based on information that is exaggerated, not based on FACT, meant to scare people, or meant to make people angry. For every story of fraud we are told about there are 10 stories of people who have used or are using the system the way it was meant to be used but again people focus only on the negative stories. Did you see the story about food served in the Blaine House? The amount of money spent on one meal would have served many meals to more people then were served there. That is taxpayer money that was spent. A cheaper meal couldn't have been served? More people couldn't have been invited to eat a cheaper meal?....Fraud is everywhere. Stupid spending is everywhere.....it is time people wake up to reality that it isn't just the less fortunate but EVERYONE who is spending more then they should on things "not needed" to survive.

Bob White's picture

Why is it your concerned what

Why is it your concerned what people that earn their money spend it on "but EVERYONE who is spending more then they should on things "not needed" to survive." Why should I tell someone that has gone out and earned the dollar bill honestly how to spend it? that's kind of like telling them how to live. If I'm paying for it yes then I (we ) should have some say if not then its none of my business as long as its legal. I don't know about the food at the Blaine House but like at the White House their are times that they must put out the fine china. That has been going on for ever and I do believe it should as well. Whether you like the person in office president or governor that is part of their job its not a republican or democratic thing.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

It is not my concern where

It is not my concern where they get their money just as it is no one's concern how they spend whatever they spend their money on. Do I think there should be drug testing? YES. Do I think they should be told how they can spend their money? NO. And if it is your argument that because they are receiving taxpayer money then they should be told how to spend it then I want receipts from the governor and the president and lets see where the savings can be. Do they need prime rib and lobster for the "fine china" affairs...I personally do not think so. And the incident I was referring to was a dinner for military families...."fine china" was needed why? Less expensive food could have been served with the same results...does it matter that the pasta comes from Save-A-Lot versus coming from an italian restaurant.....is my point....there are savings to be found EVERYWHERE without being in someone's personal business.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Tina ? You are right ? "

Tina ? You are right ? " they really have no clue. " No body wants to be on SNAP or TANF for the rest of their liƒe . It's embarrassing but thank the good Lord it is available to all who need it in this semi-sorta' civilized world we live in
It's disheartening to read about your dumb and self rightous , ' holier than thou ' governor and his cronies ( like many who comment in here ) and how much they distain and dislike the good people of the Great State of Maine
Makes us sick to our stomachs , in fact . These cynical , sarcastic , uncaring , pasty , overweight old tea sipping homophobic and " intolerant of others who are not like them " bullies could give a flying frick about their neighbors , the communities they live in , and the problems we all face in the 21 st century
Let's leave fence sitting RHINOS like Susan who can't decide their way out of a paper bag out of it for the moment
And then there's the question of guns . It's okay if they have to have their guns . Most guns are used for suicides , robberies or rapes n e way and although women attempt suicide more often guys are more sucessful
Guys use guns to blow their brains out
Believe you me , i have cleaned up after suicides in Maine . Shotguns are the gun of choice
" they just think they have all the answers when they really have no clue. " They don't think because they do not have the brain power to do so . Remember the scarecrow? " If i only had a brain . .."
The party of " Just Say No " has no future , no direction , no leader , no morals , is not in the majority , is pointless and disregarded universally for their essential nature
The RHINO'S fundamental indecision got you in to this mess
Olympia's gone . .but she did write a book
Q: Who's next ?
A: Your foolish governor and his TV
? /s, Steve

Mike Lachance's picture

This has got to be one of the

This has got to be one of the most mind numbingly ignorant posts seen on the SJ pages in a year.

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