Maine welfare advocates wary of cuts, anecdotes

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Upcoming legislative debates over proposed restrictions and reforms in Maine's welfare programs should be based on facts, not anecdotes suggesting widespread cheating and long-term reliance on assistance, advocates said Wednesday.

Sarah Standiford
Pat Wellenbach

Sarah Standiford, far right, of the Maine Women's Lobby speaks at a news conference at the State House in Augusta, Maine, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Advocates for welfare programs in Maine say legislative debate over proposed cuts should be based on facts, not anecdotes suggesting widespread cheating and long-term reliance. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

Researchers, advocates and recipients of assistance programs released a report based on questionnaires completed in 2010 by more than 1,000 families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and follow-up focus groups, which they called the most complete study of its kind since 1995.

The study was conducted as welfare reform became an issue during the gubernatorial campaign. With the new legislative session, a number of bills addressing welfare have been introduced, such as proposals to impose time limits on eligibility, tougher residency requirements and drug testing for recipients.

Gov. Paul LePage has not yet finalized his welfare reform package, but its central themes will be creating a tiered system that weans residents off welfare, creates a work requirement and imposes a five-year limit on benefits.

Advocates of assistance programs support some welfare proposals, such as those promoting greater access to job training and education, said Chris Hastedt of Maine Equal Justice, which advocates for low-income people. Hastedt noted that TANF spending represents less than 1 percent of the state general fund budget.

Hastedt and other advocates said that as debate develops in the weeks and months ahead, they hope proposed changes in the program will be based on facts. They said changes in the laws will affect about 14,800 Maine families — including 25,000 children — receiving assistance.

"Unfortunately, much of the debate has been driven by anecdotes and stereotypes, not credible information," said Sarah Standiford, executive director of the Maine Women's Lobby.

Their study shows that the median time people are on TANF is 1½ years. It also shows the biggest reasons families apply for assistance are job instability, illness, disabilities and family problems including domestic abuse. It also showed the median age of a child receiving TANF is just under 2.

"I didn't choose to go on TANF," said Pam Smith, a divorced mother of three and recipient since 2007 who lives in southern Maine. Smith said she had to apply for benefits for several reasons, including the hospitalization of her son that required her to be home during his recovery.

"I wouldn't be able to put a roof over my children's head if it wasn't for TANF," Smith said.

A LePage spokesman called the report released Wednesday "helpful."

"It reinforces the message that the solutions to welfare reform need to be focused on the individual's needs" to move forward and out of welfare, said spokesman Dan Demeritt.

He added that the administration agrees with the report's finding that many of those on welfare hold a succession of short-term jobs.

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 's picture

well angelsx

the paycheck is hard earned money and tanf/food stamps are paid by the tax payer and should be allowed to tell how much they are recieving it is a federal funded program paid by the tax payers hell if they don't want us to know then they can take responsibilty for thier action and support themselves

 's picture

tanf is broke and i have the proof

i was at circle k getting a coffee and saw a man mid 20's come in there and went to the beer cooler and came out with a 12 pack of bud plops it on the counter the cleark scanned it and said that will be $$$ the man pulled out his welfare card and said charge it to my tanf the clerk swiped the card and my god it went through,.
i proceeded home and called the welfare fraud division and expland to them what i saw and i recieved a message on my answering machine that floored me
the message stated that tanf is cash and they are allowed to buy anything their hearts want, it's their money to do what ever they please what does t.a.n.f stand for (temporary assistance for NEEDY families) what the hell does beer have to do with needy families
for those that don't believe me get ahold of me and i can send you the message i got cause i saved it to a digital recorder, i was at circle k on minot ave and talked to a cleark over there about food stams and there was 4 somolians they all used their food stamps and she was telling me the balance of all 4 1 was $700 and the 2nd was $700 the 3rd was $1200 and the 4th had a balance of $2200 like gimme a break we need to set the 5 year tanf limit on this and other things i think paul lepage is headed in the right direction and i applaud him for his guts to stand up for what he thinks maine needs

GARY SAVARD's picture

ronh66 nailed it. If there

ronh66 nailed it. If there aren't any problems of any size with our current welfare system as it is, then why all the talk about all of the people that will be impacted by changes that would add accountability to the various programs? To be perfectly honest, I highly doubt that even one in ten Mainers that have any interaction with the general population of this State can't come up with at least one example of fraud or, certainly, abuse of the welfare system. The biggest problem is that the service providers are encouraged to grow the rolls on these programs as a way to insure job security, and that's why DHHS is Maine's largest employer. Changes are long overdue. We're at the point where there are more people riding on the wagon than there are available to pull it. BTW, this may be anecdotal, but it isn't fiction.

Ron Hubbard's picture

Welfare or lifestyle????

If they are not cheating the system then why are they so worried about the changes????If they can't pass a drug screen then they don't need welfare.If you are not a resident then you do not deserve welfare...

KELLY SCOTTI's picture

With the state unemployment

With the state unemployment rate at over 7% where will all of the supposed deadbeats going to find jobs?

Nancy Perham's picture

Credible "iformation"?

Maybe you should "spend all day" learning spelling and grammar. I found nine errors in your post.

KELLY SCOTTI's picture

I would consider your

I would consider your 'credible information' as anecdotal


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