I was encouraged to read this newspaper’s Nov. 30 editorial (“Food stamp reform should go beyond fraud”), which seemed to admit there is some merit to some of the welfare reform proposals contained in my letter to Maine’s congressional delegation.

The newspaper, however, missed the larger point of welfare reform. Reform does not begin or end at deterring an individual from trading his or her electronic benefits transfer card for drugs or cash. It does not begin or end at requiring job-ready, working-age adults to work, look for work or volunteer while receiving benefits.

Welfare reform is much bigger than that. It is about acknowledging that the increasing number of individuals and families dependent on welfare and living in poverty is a failure of previous administrations and their welfare policies.

Welfare dependency cannot be a way of life. Increasing the number of individuals and families on welfare programs should not be a measure of success. We will not sit idly by and tolerate a system that has trapped people in poverty and overlooked blatant fraud and abuse.

A dramatic change is long overdue. Maine and the United States must take a holistic approach to breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Under the LePage administration, we have coordinated efforts among the state departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education to put able-bodied welfare recipients on the road to self-sufficiency instead of enabling dependency.

We know that the value of a job extends beyond the income it generates. Employment builds self-esteem, promotes personal responsibility, provides integration with the community and establishes important role-modeling for our children.


It is imperative that we connect the dots between the growing costs of welfare in Maine and the inability to invest in education, job training, job development and tax policies that attract and retain good-paying jobs in Maine. Economic mobility in our state is not just a dream; it is a real possibility.

From 1995 to 2010, residents of the 10 states with the highest state and local tax burden — of which Maine was one — lost $139 billion in total adjusted gross income. The 10 states with the lowest tax burden gained $70 billion. In 2013, Republican-led states made up nine of the 10 fastest-growing state economies, while Democratic-led states accounted for six of the 10 slowest-growing.

In Maine, the pro-growth, pro-reform policies of the LePage administration have cut our unemployment rate by about 27 percent, cut our cash welfare enrollment in half and placed us among the top three states in the nation for employment ratio growth. This year, we have referred 1,016 job-ready welfare recipients to the Department of Labor for help finding work while putting stricter limits on welfare eligibility. So far, 51 percent of them have found employment, education or volunteer opportunities.

We reject the premise of policymakers who for years have seen Maine’s bloated welfare system as a tool to make poverty just a little more comfortable for those who are supposedly destined to a lifetime of it.

Instead, we believe strongly that Maine’s welfare system can and must return to its original purpose of helping those who truly cannot help themselves and providing temporary assistance when a hand up is needed, with a constant eye toward revitalizing Maine’s economy to increase the number of good-paying jobs to lift Mainers out of generational poverty.

Above all else, the road to reform is paved with compassion. Every dollar in food stamp benefits on an EBT card traded for cocaine or heroin is a dollar taken from the mouth of a hungry child or a struggling senior. Every dollar spent on taxpayer-funded health care for job-ready adults with access to low-cost plans on the federal exchange is a dollar taken from a nursing home on the brink of financial collapse or a family with a severely disabled child on a waiting list for Medicaid services.

I hope that the newspaper’s admission is a sign that its constant bombardment of this administration’s policies may be waning in favor of a view that is more in line with that of the average reader. But this newspaper and its readers can rest assured that during Gov. Paul LePage’s second term, we will continue our reform efforts regardless of whether that is the case.

Mary Mayhew is commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

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