The panel of 10 members of legislative leadership in the Maine House and Senate, including myself, met recently to decide the fate of some 400 bill proposals submitted for consideration in 2014. As Democrats control six of the 10 seats, they set the agenda.
Never had I seen such a stark difference in priorities as I did that day, with Democrats bending the rules to push welfare expansion while simultaneously stopping every welfare reform proposal to come before them.
As part of a large family that grew up poor in Washington County, I know the difficulties that many Maine people face. I also saw firsthand the abuse that occurs within Maine’s welfare system and the intergenerational dependency that it fosters. This has convinced me that we must do more to ensure that our hard-earned tax dollars go only to those who truly need the help and are unable to provide for themselves.
With that goal, I introduced three bills to reform Maine’s welfare system. The first would have required able-bodied, job-ready applicants for cash welfare benefits to apply for at least three jobs before they can receive benefits. Nineteen other states currently do this, ranging from conservative Georgia to liberal Vermont. These states have seen a dramatic drop in cash welfare enrollment, which tells me that either people are finding jobs as a result of the work search requirement or they’re simply not willing to look for a job.
The second would have eliminated “catch-all” exceptions for participation in the state’s ASPIRE work search program. There are many reasonable exceptions to participation in ASPIRE, such as if recipients are injured or sick, or caring for a loved one who is. Other exceptions, however, simply say, “any other good cause.” Those exceptions eat the rule, and professionals at the Department of Health and Human Services told me that they are routinely abused. This bill would eliminate those exceptions and clean up some of the language in others.
The third bill would have established a study commission to craft a tiered system whereby welfare recipients don’t lose all their benefits at once as soon as they obtain a job or a promotion. This discourages dependency and encourages work. A similar measure was introduced in the last session and received unanimous approval in the House before Democratic leadership quietly killed the bill in a post-session meeting.
A legislative rule prevents the same bill from being introduced twice in the same two-year term, which would disqualify my third bill, but as soon as I heard that Democrats waived that rule to push medical welfare expansion under Obamacare, I decided I would see if the new rule applied to a bill that reforms welfare in addition to one that expands it.
Turns out, it doesn’t. Democratic leadership created one set of rules for themselves and another for Republicans; one set of rules for the status quo and another for reform. All three of my bills were voted down, but fortunately, I have a chance to appeal the decision on Thursday.
Liberal politicians believe that there is no waste or abuse in Maine’s welfare system; that the status quo works just fine. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. Maine’s poverty rate has stayed the same over the past 20 years, yet our state’s inflation-adjusted welfare spending has nearly doubled. We stand second in the nation for welfare spending as a percentage of overall state spending, second for food stamp enrollment, third for medical welfare and sixth for cash welfare.
Maine’s welfare spending addiction created $500 million worth of debt to our hospitals, and liberals now want to spend $150 million per budget to expand the very same program that created the debt. The welfare expansion proposal would add 70,000 able-bodied adults to the medical welfare rolls under Obamacare, and we’re relying on a federal government that can’t even keep itself open, and a president who apologized to the American people for breaking his promise that we could keep our health plans under Obamacare.
Half of those who would be covered by welfare expansion will be eligible for subsidized private plans at a cost of as little as $5 per week; that is, as soon as the feds get their website working. Why should hardworking Maine taxpayers foot the bill for medical welfare when another option is available?
Dependency leads to more debt, more deficits, fewer jobs and a weaker Maine. I urge Maine citizens to call the Democratic leadership by Thursday and ask them to reform welfare, not expand it.
Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport is the Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives.