LEWISTON — U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is backing legislation that would give states more latitude to make their own rules for welfare programs that are fueled by federal taxes.

Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, touched on a range of subjects during a short interview with the Sun Journal on Thursday prior to an appearance before the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council’s annual dinner at the Ramada Inn.

“One of the things that I’m supportive of is to give the state, our governor, our localities more flexibility in distributing welfare dollars,” Poliquin said, “because they know the folks in our communities who need these dollars and know how to distribute these dollars and make them accountable much better than a bureaucrat in Washington can.”

He said local oversight should include job-training, education or volunteer service for those who are capable.

Federal law that allows states to opt out of those requirements for some welfare recipients should be overturned, Poliquin said.

He said he supports recent budget changes that would see the federal government relinquish some of its control over benefit programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The federal government would issue block-grant funding for the programs to states with fewer strings attached.


The proposal has ramifications in Maine where the Legislature is considering a bill that requires the Department of Health and Human Services to seek a waiver for SNAP program benefits to disallow the purchase of “junk food” items that are currently subject to state sales tax.

Those include candy and confections, fudge, ice, liquid iced tea or coffee, soda and water. The vast majority of grocery items are not subject to sales tax in Maine.

Poliquin also said he was pleased to be part of the first Congress in over 14 years to finally hammer together a complete federal budget. He said the measure saves the country $5 trillion over the next decade, making significant strides to reduce the federal deficit.

“We now finally have a budget that balances, without raising taxes, and it saves a boatload of money,” Poliquin said. “It’s a long fix; the problems are so big because we’ve dug ourselves into such a hole that it’s going to take a while to get where we need to be, but we are on that path now and I’m thrilled about it.”

Expediting the ability of asylum-seeking immigrants in Maine to get federal permission to work in the U.S. is also on his radar screen, Poliquin said.

He said he supports Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald’s position that when the federal government allows those seeking asylum to enter the U.S. they should do more to help support those individuals as they transition to legal status, but the federal government also needs to do something to break the paperwork log-jam that’s keeping skilled and educated immigrants from gainful employment.


“It’s not right, and I agree with the mayor on this and we will have to find out where that is in the cogs down there (in Washington),” Poliquin said, vowing to keep the issue at the forefront.

Poliquin also said he remained focused on protecting jobs in Maine and one way to do that is to ensure that the state can reduce its overall energy costs.

To that end, he’s among a group of bipartisan lawmakers who are backing a bill that would allow an expedited permitting process for natural gas pipelines in New England and beyond.

He said many utility providers won’t even consider the prospect of building a new pipeline for natural gas because the permitting process could take five years or longer without a positive result. Under the legislation he supports, “It’s up or down after a year,” Poliquin said.

Increasing the flow into the state of lower-cost natural gas used to generate electricity and heat is an important economic development tool and a way to help existing industry, especially the state’s paper companies, stay competitive, he said.

Also on the horizon is testimony he will offer before the International Trade Administration on subsidies given by the Canadian government to a paper mill in New Brunswick that he said were illegal, unfair and are putting U.S. mills in Minnesota and Maine on an unlevel playing field in the global markets.


“We are making one heck of a stink down in Washington,” Poliquin said. “Our office is leading the charge to make sure we push this as quickly and as deeply as we can in the federal government.”

Poliquin also said he was enthusiastically pursuing some of the work of his predecessor, Mike Michaud, in pushing for the U.S. military to purchase athletic footwear from Maine’s New Balance company.

He also supports a bill to exempt small community banks and credit unions from what he described as burdensome and unnecessary regulations enacted after the U.S. housing market collapse in 2008. He said that was fueled mainly by large banks that were following unsound lending practices.

These smaller, locally held banks are not “intertwined with Wall Street,” Poliquin said. “They represent no systemic risk to the economy.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.