Residency requirement could be part of LePage welfare overhaul

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage's decision Thursday to allow state agencies to ask people about their immigration status likely will be the first step in his plan to overhaul Maine's welfare system.

A spokesman for LePage said the governor's executive order was meant to send a message that Maine would no longer be a "sanctuary state" for people seeking a driver's license or social services.

But advocate groups for low-income individuals expect the move is a precursor to Republican efforts to impose residency duration requirements on certain welfare programs, particularly General Assistance, which disburses vouchers to qualifying families for critical living expenses, such as utilities and food.

General Assistance recipients are already required to prove they're living in Maine. However, widespread concerns that needy people are coming to Maine to take advantage of its welfare programs have prompted Republican lawmakers to introduce legislation that would require people to live here for a determined period before receiving assistance.

Such efforts were defeated when Democrats controlled the Legislature, amid concerns about violating the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, an argument that's been previously upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, with LePage vowing to restructure the welfare system, a Republican majority in the State House and a Republican attorney general, duration residency requirements could be forthcoming.

The stage has already been set by LePage.

Dan Demeritt, LePage's communications director, indicated Thursday that Maine social service recipients should focus on "people who live here and are established here."

Demeritt acknowledged that programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid are mostly administered by the federal government and may not allow a residency requirement.

However, Republicans have traditionally focused on General Assistance, which is managed by the state. 

Demeritt said LePage and other Republican lawmakers believe that Maine's "generous" welfare benefits made the state a magnet for needy people.

"We need to make sure we do everything we can at the state level to make sure we’re focusing on, and preventing to the extent that we can, people coming to Maine just because of its welfare programs," Demeritt said.

Ana Hicks, a senior policy adviser for Maine Equal Justice Partners, said LePage's decision was political, noting the vigorous cheers the governor received during his inauguration speech when he told supporters that public assistance had to go to Maine residents.

"It was very upsetting," she said. "This has been an issue we’ve been dealing with for years now, this myth that people are moving into Maine for generous benefits when we can show that that’s just not happening."

According to data from the state's Department of Health and Human Services, over five years, five times as many benefit recipients left Maine each month compared to the number of people who moved here and received assistance.

In 2006, DHHS reported that less than 1 percent of all recipients came from another state. And, about one-third were returning home, not migrating here.

The data also attempts to dispel other widely held beliefs. Despite perceptions that welfare recipients are discouraged from holding jobs because they run the risk of losing public assistance, DHHS said Maine has the most working welfare recipients of any state in New England.

And, in order to get temporary assistance, DHHS says all applicants must be residents or legal immigrants.

Hicks said that LePage's vow to make sure aid recipients are residents "pretty much happens right now."

But Republicans and LePage say the state has become a haven for individuals seeking richer benefits, and that the system is wrought with fraud.

Phil Nadeau, assistant city administrator of Lewiston, said it would be naive to believe that some people are not gaming the system. However, he said, "to say that people are coming here from out of state, and to say that there’s hard data on that, well, I just don’t think there is."

Carol Monterio, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office in Boston, said she was unaware of widespread fraud in the federal temporary assistance program.

"I personally haven't seen it or heard of it," she said.

However, a report by the conservative think tank Maine Heritage Policy Center recently stated that Maine is No. 1 in welfare dependency, claiming that one in three Mainers is on some form of public assistance.

The report was widely criticized by Democrats and Brenda Harvey, Gov. John Baldacci's DHHS commissioner, who called it misleading and politically motivated.

The policy center bills itself as a nonpartisan group. Its executive director, Tarren Bragdon, helped lead LePage's transition effort and Heritage Policy Center analyst Steven Bowen was recently named one of the governor's senior policy advisers, stirring Democratic claims that the group is a political organization cloaked as a research center.

LePage and Republican legislative candidates on the campaign trail frequently cited facts in the center's welfare study. That prompted claims from Democrats and left-leaning organizations like the Maine Center for Economic Policy that Bragdon's group was manipulating its research.

Bragdon previously countered that the center's welfare study began more than a year before the campaign season. He has repeatedly said the center does not endorse candidates or get involved in elections.

Christopher St. John, executive director of the Center for Economic Policy, said Thursday that the conservative group "deliberately misled" Mainers and lawmakers with its welfare dependency claim by lumping in Medicaid recipients with TANF and General Assistance, "totally different programs with different purposes."

St. John also noted that Maine has the lowest TANF benefits in New England.

He said, "Is it logical that people would flock from Massachusetts with higher welfare benefits to Maine with lower welfare benefits? No, that doesn’t make any sense."

Still, it's clear LePage and Republicans are preparing to unveil major welfare overhaul initiatives this legislative session.

LePage's inaugural speech set the tone. During his address, he told the story of resident Jennifer Cloukey, a single mother and welfare recipient who managed to earn a degree and is in the process of getting off the system.

LePage said he intended to make Cloukey's story more common.

"There are a lot of Jennifer Cloukeys in Maine," he said.

Said Demeritt, "That’s the goal we have to have for everybody who’s in the system. People who are permanently (in need), we obviously need to accommodate them. But we have to find new ways to get the others back to independent status."

St. John said he supported LePage's goal to guide aid recipients to self-sufficiency. He called Cloukey a "great story," and evidence that the state's assistance programs were working as they were designed to work.

"The current programs do a better job than the governor acknowledged," St. John said.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Jerome Young's picture

I am astonished. I am

I am astonished. I am wondering why Mr Mistler would write this? I understand Gov Lepage wants to correct a system that is really very cruel towards those who really do want to be responsible for themselves. If a mom of four, in school, reaches a certain income level on the "way out" of dependency, is immediately CUT OFF from help at a specific income level , rather than a gradual decrease in benefits that supports her. So, in the current system, if she works hard, at a certain income level (not enough) will be forced back into the system, because the help is denied her....on her way out of it. CRAZY. I think the Gov's approach is right. But, this is NOT mentioned in this article. What is Mr St John's motive behind his words? The goal is to get as many people independent, self reliant, as we can. The body of this article seems to be a small denigration of what I understand Gov LePage would like to accomplish. But the denigration is insidous, and will be constant like rust.
Anyway, if someone from away, moves here, establishes residency (a coupla days), to feed off of our generosity. If it is ONLY one, then that is one too many. That money could go towards one of ours. To say that there is this MASSIVE migration of welfare people to Maine is silly, to say that we are deliberately denying the poor some kind of a life is equally as silly. We are saying the system, the way Mr St John defends it, is CRUEL and self defeating.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

Defining welfare

The public, news organizations, and the Governors office use the term “welfare” too liberally, and imprecisely. Hopefully we all will start to discuss specific programs, which are believed problematic so that they can be reviewed, and if needed, improved. Working in behavioral health for many years, I believe it imperative that we help Mainers on their pathway to recovery from whatever vicissitude of life they encounter – this is what makes our society great.

However, as a state, we have not had a lot of public discourse about our values and what we wish to accomplish with the multitude of public programs we offer, including whether the programs are actually effective and indeed improve peoples lives. While some do, certainly other likely do not.

What is welfare? There are many programs which are federal, state, local or some combination of all, which use public money to help those in need. I think it more helpful to discuss the merits of specific programs and not generalities. While it possible to change state or locally funded programs (through the Legislative process) such as General Assistance, it is not possible to do so with federally funded programs, except through acts of Congress.

An example of something we can not change, is a state may not require residency for Medicaid aka MaineCare, this is within Title XIX of the Social Security Act, though with the proper waivers Maine can do other things such as change the Co-pay requirement, qualifications for services - so long as they are applied across the board, and adjust the Protected Income Level (Maine has a high PIL of $315/mo) of MaineCare beneficiaries, this is the amount people who are over income but qualify medically must “spend down” to. Maine could even; possibly, opt out of the Medicaid program, though risky, it is an option.

Some things which we may want to look at, and consider changing is our states General Assistance statute, and how the rules are promulgated and how Maine citizens experience (or not) assistance.

For example, we might want the Legislature to change the state statues that there is currently no residency requirement for GA, nor is there a requirement for the municipality to check an applicants immigration status. We may want to amend the statute to allow for time limitations and residency.
http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/OIAS/services/general-assistance/index.html

While there is a work requirement under GA, including working for the municipality, the “Just cause” for failure to meet work requirements may be so broad that many may benefit from remaining disabled, etc. We may want to add, that along with a person seeking work, or attending educational or job preparation; that they should be active in a physical, behavioral rehabilitation program.
http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/22/title22ch1161sec0.html

Joseph Keelan's picture

Is there really an illegal immigrant problem in Maine?

One source I checked indicates there less than 2,500 undocumented immigrants in the state. So you're right. If there isn't a problem here than why all the fuss about the law change?

It makes me wonder. Is this change just one step closer to a "Paper's please" law?

Susan Fitzpatrick's picture

seven years to get a nursing

seven years to get a nursing degree...why so long,because welfare was paying,if she was it wouldn't have taken that long...and Fatandhappy where do you get your info form????people have to be working to get welfare who are you kidding with that....THEY DON'T WORK THATS WHY THERE ON WELFARE ITS A WAY OF LIFE FOR THEM....AND i'M GLAD THERE GETTING NERVOUS...

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"seven years to get a nursing

"seven years to get a nursing degree"....
Good eye, Susan. The parrot, aka "eagle eyed nit picker", wondered how long it would take for someone to pick up on that.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Drop the talking points Governor

The election is over, you won though by the slimmest of margins. You don't ave to start thinking about the next election for three years, so why don't you drop the right wing absurdities and begin to speak truth.

Maine is no more a magnet for the poor (code word for minority) than there was actually a welfare queen for Reagan to blather on about. He made that story up and it played well with those who'd rather not think. The welfare magnet story is the same.

Drop it and start dealing with reality. Maine is on the end of the supply line for goods - that and the constant carping about high taxes and over regulation explains our economy as much as anything. NH's tax burden isn't that much less than ours - they more than make up for low state taxes with ridiculously high local taxes. But they don't gnash their teeth and shriek about it scaring off potential investors.

You have four years to prove my foreboding is unfounded - please don't blow it just repeating Heritage Foundation garbage.

Ron Hubbard's picture

Welfare

If our welfare system is not easy then why did all the Somilians come here???I am sure it was not for the great weather and jobs.....

GARY SAVARD's picture

If welfare reform isn't

If welfare reform isn't really necessary and most people who think people move to Maine for our overly generous benefits system are wrong, then what harm can come from the proposed changes? If indeed that's the case, then the residency requirements and lifetime caps won't really affect anyone while at the same time they will make many Mainers feel more comfortable that the system is fair. If, however, that were really the case, then the question I have is why are these agencies that feed off of the system whining about proposed changes that supposedly won't change anything?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Another Bull's Eye, Gary.

Another Bull's Eye, Gary.

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

If people are flocking to

If people are flocking to Maine for its welfare programs then it only shows Maine has far far to many perks and benifits for those receving welfare, the REAL CONSTITUTIONAL METHOD would be to follow guidelines of other welfare roles in other states from where these people are flocking from and adapt our system to thiers, such as mandatory labor to clean our streets shovel sidewalks, etc. you can bet your bippy there will be a stream heading away from Maine and it would be constitutional. A 4 or 6 month wait before recieving welfare could also be constitutional as a waiting period to make sure they are who they say they are instead of immediately granting welfare, either way yes we all know the existing welfare system is much to giving. However that being said Corporate welfare accounts for twice the the cost of public welfare and therefore should also be leaned out as well otherwise the legislature is doing a dis-service to all of Maine.

Tony Morin's picture

People aren't

People aren't flocking to Maine for it's welfare programs. He knows it. But he also knows that the bunker dwellers will stand and applaud if he makes such statements. Also, I don't even own a bippy, otherwise I'd take your bet.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The truly needy will get

The truly needy will get their assistance. The professionally unemployed and the fakers will be exposed and removed from the dole. Win win for the taxpayers. How's the New Year treating you, T?

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