July 8, 2016

Welfare reform requires comprehensive fix, not gimmicks - By Sen. Bill Diamond

Not long ago, a newspaper investigation revealed that Gov. Paul LePage’s administration had
redirected millions of federal dollars designed to help children of low-income parents into other programs for seniors and the disabled.

I can’t imagine anyone thinks it’s a bad idea to boost programs for our elderly neighbors and people with disabilities. Unfortunately, as the Bangor Daily News reported, the governor’s funding shift was an apparent violation of a federal law that prevents states from picking favorites, or pinning one needy population against another.

The very same week that information was published, Gov. LePage also said he might cease administration of food stamps in our state, a move that would affect more than 190,000 Mainers and could cause a spike in the numbers of people who need help putting food on the table. 

http://www.downeastsharpening.com/Obviously, the fight between the governor and the federal government is escalating. However, Maine law requires the state to administer the food stamps program in cooperation with the federal government. If he did move to stop the program, the governor would again be in conflict with the law.

I don’t tell you all this because I take any joy in reporting on the squabbles the governor has with the federal government. While we disagree on some policies, I believe that his heart’s in the right place in his efforts to reform welfare. We all know that our welfare system needs real reform, to make it smarter, tougher and more fair.

But risking access to food for kids and other legitimate folks when federal law says you can’t — that’s a problem. That’s not real reform. We all must follow the law, both federal and state, and these most recent actions and the controversies they cause only distract us from the real job at hand: Fixing welfare.

Earlier this year, Democrats in the legislature proposed a comprehensive welfare reform package. We called it “Welfare that Works.”

Our plan included a balanced set of reforms to improve accountability at the cash register, such as a ban on the use of welfare dollars to buy alcohol and tobacco, as well as efforts to end Maine’s one-size-fits-all system of benefits so that Mainers who were down on their luck would receive specifically tailored assistance to get them out of poverty and into jobs — nothing more, nothing less.
It would have held government accountable for running lean, efficient welfare programs that actually worked to get recipients into the workforce. It would have required recipients to work and, if jobs weren’t available, would have created a transitional jobs program so that welfare recipients could earn experience and build skills that would help them prosper in the future.

I was pleased to see the legislature adopt some parts of our plan. But our welfare system didn’t get where it is overnight, and it’s going to take a lot more to get it back on track. We can’t just nibble around the edges. And we certainly can’t waste valuable time and energy with proposals and plans that fly in the face of state and federal law. 

The Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have proven that we can work together and I know we can fix this welfare problem as long as we stay focused.

As always, please feel free to contact me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or (207) 287-1515, if you have questions or comments.

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