AUGUSTA — Republican Gov. Paul LePage is pushing forward with his proposals to overhaul the state’s welfare programs despite a setback last week when Democratic lawmakers decided to scale back and reject several of the measures.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Republican lawmakers will hold a news conference Monday to discuss how electronic benefit transfer cards issued in Maine are being used in other states. LePage’s administration has been trying to ban use of the cards outside the state, saying they hope to protect taxpayers from footing the bill for the inappropriate use of welfare benefits.
But the Democrat-controlled Health and Human Services Committee rejected that proposal and supported an amended version of the bill that directs the state to study the out-of-state use of EBT cards instead.
Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who serves on the committee, said most of the out-of-state transactions occurred in nearby New Hampshire and were probably made by people who live near the border. The administration has the power to investigate fraudulent uses of the cards out of state and should do that instead of cutting off the use of the cards for everyone, he said.
“This is a classic case of a solution looking for a problem,” he said.
LePage has criticized Democrats for arguing that the amount of fraud is small in comparison to the number of transactions every year. He said that’s “like saying it’s OK to steal just a little.”
“Democrats and the press can argue about what an acceptable percentage of welfare fraud is, but our Administration is working to stop 100 percent of welfare fraud,” he said in a statement.
Attorney General Janet Mills told lawmakers that banning cards from being used out of state may be unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate commerce, Gattine said.
Democrats also rolled back LePage’s initial proposal to bar the use of EBT cards to buy things like alcohol, lottery tickets and cigarettes and supported an amended version that bans the use of the cards in smoke shops.
Meanwhile, the committee nixed the governor’s measure to require some welfare applicants to show they’ve applied to three jobs before receiving benefits and another proposal that eliminates some exceptions to participation in work-search programs.
Lawmakers in the full chambers are expected to vote on the proposals in the coming weeks.