Proving they are serious about mitigating their citizens’ dependence on government welfare programs, conservative members of Maine’s state legislature continue to push the state towards meaningful welfare reform.
Although some proposed legislation has faced setbacks in committee hearings, members have succeeded in drawing attention to the fiscal and economic challenges posed by the state’s welfare system.
Maine’s dependence on government programs is amongst the highest in the country. As of 2008, it had the second-highest percentage among states of households receiving food stamps, households with cash public assistance income, Medicaid enrollment, and welfare expenditures.
State Representative Rich Cebra (R), a sponsor of the recent Act to Enact a 5-Point Welfare Reform Program, noted:
Right now our system penalizes people who leave welfare and go back to work. We’re holding folks back and it makes no sense. Consequently, we’re now into our second or third generation of a welfare class, and that’s not good for anybody. As a poor state facing huge budget deficits, we simply can’t afford a system that encourages people to stay on welfare.
Highlights of the plan include tax incentives for employers hiring welfare recipients as well as additional limitations and time limits on the state’s ASPIRE-TANF (Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment-Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. Additionally, conservative organizations in the state have partnered with Governor Paul LePage to combat welfare fraud.
This welfare battle comes at a time when national welfare spending is growing at an alarming rate. Means-tested welfare is currently the third most expensive government function, with more money allotted to it than to national defense. Welfare spending—combined state and federal—will total approximately $10.3 trillion in the decade between 2009 and 2018.
Additionally, the government currently operates over 70 separate welfare programs. The country cannot afford to continue on this path of throwing more money at more and more welfare programs, which, rather than help alleviate poverty, has created government dependence.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the 1996 welfare reform, which added work requirements and time limits to the nation’s largest cash assistance welfare program. As a result, millions of families left welfare for jobs. Since that time, however, the successful reforms have been weakened and states have used loopholes to evade work requirements.
Another reform is needed. The federal government must begin by getting federal spending under control. Welfare programs should link welfare to work, such as in the plan proposed by Representative Jim Jordan (R–OH).
Furthermore, the government should eliminate marriage penalties in welfare programs and promote marriage in low-income communities, where the unwed birthrate has increased significantly over the last five decades, significantly contributing to the poverty rate.
Maine is moving forward to ensure that welfare assistance does not mean lifetime government dependence. The federal government should also take action to ensure that anti-poverty programs truly help the poor gain personal independence.