AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage will pursue restrictions on food stamps and cash welfare benefits and expand job training to Medicaid recipients when the Legislature convenes next month, one of his top lieutenants said after a business event Wednesday.

The proposed welfare limitations, outlined by Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, haven’t been advanced officially yet, but they would be nothing new. The Republican governor tried unsuccessfully to get those ideas through the Democrat-led Legislature over the past two years. He might struggle to get them through a Democrat-led House of Representatives this year.

In Maine, electronic benefit cards dispense aid through two programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, funded by federal block grants given to states.

LePage, who made welfare reform a key piece of his successful 2014 re-election campaign, changed those systems earlier this year, blocking TANF withdrawals from ATMs in bars, strip clubs, casinos or liquor stores, and implementing a new, optional program to put photographs of recipients on EBT cards, a measure the adminstration has said will fight fraud.

The latter plan has been controversial. It got pushback from advocates who say it’s ineffective, and in November the federal government threatened to pull administrative funding to Maine’s food stamp program unless Mayhew’s department made it clear that photos aren’t mandatory.

Mayhew defended those measures and others as part of protecting Maine’s “limited resources” in a speech Wednesday to a group of business leaders at a breakfast organized by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce in Augusta, saying “we’ve created a foundation that now we can build on as we look at the next four years.” She said 250,000 Mainers get food stamps, while 6,500 families get TANF aid.


Earlier this year, Mayhew released data saying that in 2013, $14 million in food stamp purchases and cash withdrawals were made out of state. Legislators amended a LePage bill that would have banned out-of-state withdrawals to direct Mayhew’s department to study and submit a report on the issue. That passed in the Legislature, but LePage vetoed the bill.

In 2013, the Democrat-led Legislature killed a LePage bill that would have prohibited junk food and soda purchases with food stamps. Such a proposal would require federal approval, but Mayhew said in an interview after her speech that her department will look at “the best avenue” to tighten the nutritional standards in the program again, calling it “an important priority.”

She also said her department will look at funding workplace skill development using federal dollars under Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor. As part of a law championed by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and supported by LePage, the state already works with Maine Medical Center in Portland to prepare recipients for employment under the TANF program, but Mayhew said that effort could be expanded with federal dollars.

“The individuals that we’re supporting in the Medicaid program often have multiple barriers to employment that require a greater level of case management and employment support,” she said, “and if we can find a way to fund that, that’s critical support to keep people out of poverty.”

Welfare proposals probably will be put forward in a governor’s bill coming from Mayhew’s department. Among a list of agency bill titles released last week by the Legislature was “An Act To Reform Maine’s Welfare Programs.” Drafts of those bills haven’t been released yet. To pass reforms, LePage will have to get cooperation from Democrats, who hold a 79-68 advantage over Republicans in the House of Representatives. LePage’s party controls the Senate.

In an interview, Eves applauded Mayhew’s focus on job training in the Medicaid program, saying his caucus is focused on finding people “a pathway out of poverty.” He was cooler to the other welfare proposals, but he said his party will consider them.


“We certainly are going to look at them and give it an honest assessment and see if it’s something we can support,” Eves said, “but we’re focused on making sure people have good-paying jobs.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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