LePage wants to make tough welfare regulations the law

By Marina Villeneuve

Republican Gov. Paul LePage is backing a proposed bill that would make some of his administration’s tough welfare regulations into law.

They would include mandating photographs on electronic benefits cards, requiring that recipients work and denying food assistance to certain households with $5,000 in assets.

The bill, which is sponsored by Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, also includes new proposals such as limiting a household’s eligibility for temporary benefits to three years instead of five years. Twenty-three states have time limits shorter than the federal requirement of five years, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy.

MaineCare recipients would have to be recertified each year to receive benefits, and people convicted of welfare fraud would no longer be able to receive benefits — their children could access such benefits through another designated individual. And individuals could only use benefits to pay for education for jobs that have an “average or better outlook” in the surrounding community.

LePage cut thousands of people from the state’s welfare rolls in 2012 after adopting the federal five-year limit on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program that had been in place since 1996. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said such policies have gotten people out of “generational dependency.”

“I think we have to try something different,” LePage said. “We have tried policies, regulations and different approaches, and we’re seeing success.”

Democrats have resisted Republicans’ past welfare reform efforts but last year worked with Republicans to restrict cash welfare benefits from purchasing items like alcohol.

But Democrats aren’t lining up in support of the latest bill, which has yet to be drafted and must pass the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate before heading to LePage’s desk.

LePage’s reforms have driven families and children deeper into poverty, said Rep. Patty Hymanson, a doctor and Democratic chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee. She said Democrats support programs like accessible child care and transportation and expanding access to education for better paying jobs.

“If this is what their definition of reform looks like, I’m not interested in expanding them any further,” Hymanson said.