January 8, 2012

Spotlighted in early address, nurse still supports governor

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Jen Cloukey has lost touch with Gov. Paul LePage over the past year.

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Jen Cloukey, a registered nurse and single mother of four from Bowdoinham, was singled out in Gov. Paul LePage’s inaugural address last year for working her way off welfare.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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They've both been pretty busy.

But Cloukey, a single mother from Bowdoinham who starred in LePage's inaugural address last January, is still standing by the man.

"I don't think I'm going to agree with everything he says." But, Cloukey said last week, "He's definitely taking action in a lot of areas. At least we're looking at (state spending)."

Cloukey, 37, met LePage shortly before the election and told him her story. She was a single mother of four studying to be a nurse so she could support her family and stop relying on welfare programs.

LePage invited her to the inauguration and spoke about her as a success story and example of his goal for welfare reform.

Cloukey's story quickly made television broadcasts and newspaper headlines around the state. The media attention faded just as quickly, but life kept moving for Cloukey.

She graduated from nursing school in June and now is a registered nurse working the night shift at a local nursing home. Her children range in age from 10 to 16 years old.

Cloukey no longer receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families but does receive food stamps, which will soon be phased out as part of her transition to work.

Cloukey continues to defend welfare -- for example, at times when she hears someone complain about people who buy a nice steak with food stamps.

"I will always speak up and say I had help along the way," she said. And she'll point out that her kids need steak more than Twinkies and junk food.

Cloukey also said people who receive welfare are wrong to fear getting a job and losing all the assistance. The benefits are phased out gradually, she learned.

"I didn't get dropped like I thought I would," she said.

Cloukey said there are plenty of people who need the same kind of help she received, and she's confident LePage will protect welfare for them.

And she said the seniors she cares for in the nursing home clearly need support from the state. "We can't forget them," she said.

But she is still glad LePage is challenging the way the state spends money.

"We can only afford to do so much. There's got to be something more than spending money that we have to do to solve these problems," she said.

Cloukey, meanwhile, is looking ahead to her next challenge. She hopes to start a bachelor's degree in the fall and, after that, a master's.

"Whatever comes my way," she said, "I know that I have the strength to handle it."

MaineToday Media State House Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:



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