Politics

October 29, 2013

Republican effort to tie welfare to work search may stall in Maine

The lawmaker behind the measure expects Democrats to kill the bill on a technicality.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Welfare bill

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Passage of Medicaid expansion may be as tenuous as Fredette’s welfare bill. Nonetheless, both proposals could become campaign issues in 2014, a gubernatorial and legislative election year. Medicaid expansion would extend public health insurance to more than 60,000 poor Mainers and Democrats believe that the issue has strong support in polls commissioned by like-minded interest groups. Similarly, Republicans say Mainers want welfare reform.

Given those claims, getting roll call votes on the proposals may be as important to the political parties as passing them.

Fredette’s job search bill has been enacted by 19 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In many states, the job search requirement has dramatically reduced caseloads for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. However, critics of the initiative believe the measures are designed to block welfare applicants from receiving needed benefits by making the process more difficult.

“This is a requirement that’s common in other states, and I think most Mainers would agree that we shouldn’t be giving out welfare to able-bodied people who haven’t even looked for a job yet,” said Fredette earlier this month.

LaDonna Pavetti, with the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., said such proposals are part of an attack on the poor.

“It assumes that people seeking assistance aren’t looking for work or don’t want to work, and we know that isn’t the case,” said Pavetti, adding that temporary assistance is designed to stabilize poor families so they can find work.

TANF is only provided to families with children, or to children directly. The average benefit for all individuals receiving temporary assistance was approximately $149 a month. In August there were 20,608 individuals who received cash benefits, of which 13,338 were children, according to data from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. More than 5,400 of the 7,270 adults (75 percent) participated in ASPIRE, a job placement program.

Fredette has a separate proposal to tighten the work search requirements in ASPIRE.

Pennsylvania passed such a law in 2012 under the direction of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. In September, that state’s Department of Public Welfare reported a spike in denials for welfare cash benefits, from a decades-long average of about 50 percent to a high of 81 percent in February. In 2013, eight of 10 applicants were denied benefits, according to a review by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A similar trend has occurred in other states that adopted upfront job-search laws or tightened the eligibility standards. In 2004, Georgia beefed up its upfront job-search requirement. Temporary assistance caseloads plummeted along with a corresponding increase in application denials, according to a 2007 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2000, Georgia’s application approval rate for temporary assistance was 40 percent. By 2011, it was 18.2 percent.

The report found no evidence that those denied benefits in Georgia had found work.

According to the report, “Since the implementation of the initiative there has been no net increase in the number of families meeting the federal work requirements.”

According to federal data, national state agencies approved 54.8 percent of temporary assistance applications in 2000. By 2011, the approval rate declined to 44.1 percent amid the adoption of upfront work search laws.

Pavetti, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said denying benefits upfront also deprived applicants of state-funded evaluations designed to help welfare recipients find work. Currently, adults receiving temporary assistance must participate in job search activities, while also meeting with state officials to assist with job placement.

Eves said last month that he wouldn’t support Fredette’s bill.

“The reality is that one in five children in Maine live in poverty,” Eves said. “It’s easy for politicians to vilify families like these that are struggling to get on their feet again, simply to score political points.”

Judith Levine, a sociologist professor at Temple University, said upfront work policies are popular because states can trim their welfare rolls, and politically expedient because they “tap into long-held public notions of deservedness” that have existed throughout the domestic welfare policy debate.

“Throughout that history, the idea of the ‘deserving poor’ has been tied largely to being employed,” Levine said. “Pre-approval work search policies create one more hurdle in a series of bureaucratic hurdles that needy families face in trying to obtain TANF benefits.”

Levine noted that the barriers are effective, citing data that showed unemployment had gone up by 88 percent nationally during the recession, but the temporary assistance caseload rose by 16 percent.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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Today's poll: Welfare bill

Do you support a bill that would require Mainers to prove that they have applied for work before they qualify for cash welfare benefits?

Yes

No

View Results

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