Gov. LePage has been outspoken in his desire to cut welfare costs, so it comes as a surprise to find there are some programs he wants to beef up.

While he has proposed reducing the numbers of people who can get state assistance and limit the time people can receive aid under certain programs, he is proposing nearly tripling the number of Department of Health and Human Services fraud investigators, going from 11 to 32.

The added inspectors are needed, the governor says, to root out the misuse of programs that anecdotal reports and his gut tell him is going on. If the governor is right, stricter enforcement should save the state money.

But if fraud is less widespread than he believes, the added investigators will be taking home money that could have been used to help people in need. The same charge, however, could be said about money stolen from programs by people who are getting benefits that they shouldn’t.

In these times of tight budgets, LePage should give the department the resources it needs to keep the programs from being abused, but not without justification. Expanding the staff should only be done on a trial basis.

If the investigators can catch fraudulent users of state services in adequate numbers to justify their pay, they could be kept on. If they can’t, the money spent to pay them should be put to better use.

While limiting fraud is a good idea, it doesn’t address the real causes of Maine’s high-cost social services. Given Maine’s aging population, slow economic growth and up to 80,000 people looking for jobs, it’s not surprising that programs that help people survive are getting more expensive.

The way to really cut welfare costs is to boost job creation and increase economic growth. With the exception of creating 21 new investigator positions, this proposal does not move toward either of those goals.

If hiring more agents makes the programs run more efficiently, it will be worthwhile. But it will take much more than that to get at the real cost drivers in the system.