The Maine Heritage Policy Center released a 35-page report Thursday, Sept. 9, examining Maine’s welfare system.

The report, “Fix the System: Freeing Maine Families from Welfare Dependency,” explains various policies within Maine’s welfare system that the MHPC said have caused a major spike in enrollment.

The report also offered what it said are solutions to reduce that welfare dependence.

“Today, one in three Mainers is on some form of welfare,” said Tarren Bragdon, MHPC chief executive officer and an author of the report, in a press release.

“During the Baldacci administration alone, welfare system enrollment grew 70 percent. By any measure, Maine is the most welfare-dependent state in the nation. Maine ranks second in the nation in the percent of its population on food stamps, second for TANF cash assistance, and second for Medicaid.”

According to the press release, many of Maine’s welfare system policies are out of the mainstream and have contributed to a high level of welfare enrollment.

Maine offers TANF cash assistance to noncitizens, as well as convicted drug felons. Further, a convicted drug felon faces no requirements such as drug treatment or testing to receive TANF benefits.

More troubling, according to the report, is the wide range of benefits available to individuals, which has increased dependency on the welfare system and has undermined hard work.

Mainers in the welfare system, according to the report, can get cash benefits, health care, food supplements, rental assistance, transportation benefits, child care, job training, and subsidies for electricity and heating oil.

This level of taxpayer assistance for welfare enrollees combined with liberal eligibility requirements, lengthy and unenforced time limits, and a failure to enforce what few rules are written into the system have caused an explosion of welfare dependency, according to the release by Chris Cinquemani, MHPC director of communications.

Without reforms, according to the report, by 2013, more Mainers will be enrolled in the welfare system than are working in the private sector.

In 2008, Maine spent $2.506 billion on its welfare system — more than it spent on attracting new jobs ($47.6 million) and K-12 public education ($2.278 billion).

Despite this, the report indicated the portion of Mainers living in poverty is growing (from 10.3 percent in 2001 to 10.9 percent in 2007). 

“There are three steps Maine must take to reduce dependence on Maine’s welfare system,” said Steve Bowen, MHPC Center for Education Excellence director and co-author of the report.

“We must focus aid on the truly needy, we must define success as new paychecks not more welfare checks, and we must overhaul the welfare bureaucracy to insert greater accountability and efficiency. Such reforms, explained in detail in the report, will mean a stronger, more prosperous Maine, and a more effective welfare system in place for the individuals who need it most.”