Welfare reform

By Ken Frederic | Jan 16, 2014
Ken Frederic

Gov. Paul LePage will introduce three reform bills, two of which were rejected by the Legislative Council in the previous session. The text of these bills isn't available yet and it is wise to wait for that before taking positions because the devil is always in the details. Nevertheless, on the surface the proposals seem very reasonable:

1. Require that new able-bodied TANF recipients show they have applied for three jobs

2. Limit exceptions to the requirement that TANF recipients participate in job-training

3. Prevent EBT cards being used for alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery tickets

4. Limit the geographic use of EBT cards

Most folks, I’d have to believe, would find these self-evident so I went on a search for the rationale for opposition. Strangely, search engines don’t return many references. That’s probably because the media outlets haven’t recently paid much attention. One article was found on the third page of BING hits: LePage’s ideas on welfare reform don’t address core problems.

The article acknowledges ”Maine is due for a serious conversation about welfare reform.” The article then proposes the "agenda" for that debate should be “best ways to fight poverty, use public resources wisely and build our economy." Failing to define a problem is a guarantee of failing to solve it. I offer an alternative view: The agenda should be welfare reform.

Fighting poverty is what one of my teachers from long ago called a "global fuzzy." Even setting out to debate anything as amorphous as poverty is self-defeating.

Using public resources wisely is the same. That debate, were we to hold it, will not be a debate about using public resources, but rather about spending your taxes’

Building our economy is more of the same, perhaps piled higher and deeper. Surely Maine needs serious conversations about the economy, each of which addresses the merits and likely success of specific efforts along with the wisdom of using your tax dollars to fund it.

It is true the governor’s proposals don’t address the core problems of poverty, joblessness, and bureaucratic inefficiency. They do not address the exploding cost of Maine Care and SNAP, neither of which are driven by cost nearly to the extent they’re driven by enrollment. His proposals will do only a little to reduce spending.

I believe the substance of the opposition is these proposals are "small ball" and address only TANF fraud which the governor has not proved is rampant. Those are valid but not compelling points and I would ask you, my reader, how much fraud is acceptable? Should we continue to endlessly admire the problem and seek only grand solutions or would it be OK to take these issues on in small bites we can understand and agree on. Might a few small successes even give us some sense of unity of purpose and optimism that we can solve our huge problems one success at a time?

Another View is contributed by a group of concerned citizens, who meet each week in the Midcoast to discuss events of public interest.

Comments (1)
Posted by: paula sutton | Jan 17, 2014 07:27

I could not agree more, thanks for you article Ken.


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