September 23, 2013

Another View: Democrats blocked bill to help welfare recipients keep benefits

Republicans are working for reform, while Democrats are preserving the status quo.


In his recent column ("Once LePage showed compassion; now all he does is urge cuts," Sept. 14), Mike Tipping of the liberal activist group Maine People's Alliance bemoaned inaction on one of the many welfare reform ideas proposed by Gov. LePage. Tipping wrote that the proposal, if put forward, "would have found support from all sides."  This, apparently, in stark contrast to all the welfare reform proposals Tipping's party has summarily rejected.

The idea in question was to create a tiered system of benefits whereby recipients would be eased off welfare, avoiding the common situation where they refuse a raise because it would disqualify them from benefits. 

A little research would have made a big difference in Tipping's column.  I cosponsored a bill to implement that very welfare reform idea of LePage's.  However, it didn't become law with the bipartisan support Tipping envisioned.  

Instead, Democratic leadership in the legislature killed the proposal over Republican objections.  If Democrats won't support a welfare reform measure that even Mike Tipping supports, is there any reform to Maine's massive welfare system that they would endorse? Republicans have finally brought much-needed reform to Maine's bloated welfare system after decades of one-party Democratic rule, but Maine is still a welfare outlier.

We capped previously unlimited Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash welfare benefits; tightened penalties for welfare fraud; enacted a waiting period for noncitizens; enacted legislation to drug-test convicted felons receiving welfare; reined in the budget-busting Medicaid program, and paid off the state's welfare debt to hospitals.  Republicans then used some of the savings to improve job programs for welfare recipients.

We believe these reforms are important not just for the sake of our budget and as a matter of principle, but because we know there is no greater economic stimulus than the life-changing effect of the dignity of a paycheck.

Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, serves on the Legislature's Labor, Commerce and Economic Development Committee.


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