We've all heard it before. Maine's welfare benefits are so over-the-top generous that the needy are coming here from around the country to take advantage of our largess.
Except, apparently, they aren't that high.
In fact, according a story that appeared on the front page of Sunday's Sun Journal, in a recent study comparing the total aid package from seven welfare programs offered in all 50 states, Maine's benefit package was among the least generous in the country: 41st out of 51 (including the District of Columbia).
And the state's modest benefits package pleased the author of the study, Michael D. Tannen, spokesman for the study's sponsor, the Libertarian Cato Institute, who congratulated Maine on its leaner-than-average package of welfare benefits.
"Maine has done a much better job than other New England states in terms of restraining the growth of welfare," Tanner told Sun Journal reporter Lindsay Tice. "One of our concerns is that the value of welfare benefits has exceeded the value of a low-wage job, which means that in many states, it's a disincentive to work. We think Maine has actually done a pretty good job of avoiding that."
That kind of praise is probably what you'd expect from a man who represents an organization which listed among its goals for 2012:
* "Restore financial discipline"
* "Stop Obamacare"
* "Repeal Dodd-Frank"
* "Defend your Second Amendment right to bear arms"
* "Develop a rational strategy for immigration reform"
* "Restore the concept of sound money"
* "Reduce military expenditures to a goal-oriented, reasonable level — with the objective of defending the United States, not righting all of the planet's perceived wrongs."
Sound like any other party you know?
That's some serious conservative cred right there.
In this day and age of "your facts and my facts" and damning the source, it should not be lost on readers that neither the author nor the sponsor of this study is devoted to liberal causes.
The Cato Institute operates around the Libertarian principles of preserving individual freedom and limiting government. So it's easy to see why welfare, the poster-child for government involvement in citizens' lives, would be a favorite target. They would prefer to turn over the problems addressed by the government's welfare programs to "an invigorated program of private charity and economic opportunity." The quote comes from an Amazon.com teaser to Tanner's book, "The Poverty of Welfare: Helping Others in a Civil Society."
Maine's welfare benefits are a hot topic, from private dinner table "discussions" to public political debates. Misinformation spreads like a virus.
But in this study, there is a fact that is hard to debate: If you are a single mother of two, there are 40 states that offer better benefits than the state of Maine offers.
Now, what about housing? And that's a valid question. When you look at the study results, housing benefits are not included in the Maine total. That's because in Maine, a single mother of two who qualifies for Temporary Aid for Needy Families can't get housing assistance as well. It's one or the other — not both.
We don't know — yet — how Maine's housing assistance programs stack up against other states in the nation. That's a topic for a future story.
But whatever the results of future studies and reports, we can say, on this day, if you're a single mother of two shopping for a state with great welfare benefits, you will find a better deal almost anywhere else.