A proposal from Lewiston’s mayor to create an online database of Maine welfare recipients generated significant debate late last week but will not move forward because no lawmakers were willing to sponsor the legislation.

Two-term Mayor Robert Macdonald, a Republican and former police detective, floated the idea last week in his regular column in the Twin City Times, a weekly newspaper and website. He said an online registry would help deter fraud and abuse and make some people think twice about applying for benefits.

The mayor said he asked Sens. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican, and Nate Libby, a Democrat from Lewiston, to sponsor legislation, but both declined.

Representatives from the House and Senate Republican caucuses said Monday that no lawmakers had put in a bill by Friday’s deadline.

The only other way for legislation to get a hearing during the next legislative session would be for Gov. Paul LePage to submit a bill. His communications director, Peter Steele, said LePage has no plans to do so. Steele did not address whether the governor, a vocal critic of welfare programs and spending, supports the idea, but said LePage was neither consulted nor asked by Macdonald to sponsor legislation.

During his tenure as mayor of Maine’s second-biggest city, Macdonald has frequently called for changes and cuts to public assistance programs. However, his idea to create an online registry that would list names and addresses of recipients drew criticism from many.

Macdonald did not return a call Monday for comment, but had seemed to recognize last week that his idea was not likely to get off the ground. He said he brought it up mostly to start a conversation, because he remains frustrated that Lewiston keeps shouldering such a heavy welfare burden.

According to data provided by the state last week, Lewiston has much higher rates of people on public assistance than the state as a whole.

The number of Lewiston residents in the federal food stamp program last month was 11,059, or 305 per 1,000 residents. That’s twice the state rate of 151 individuals per 1,000, according to numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Similarly, there were 13.6 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cases per 1,000 residents in Lewiston (495 total cases), more than three times the state rate of 4.3 cases per 1,000 residents.

“Our liberal, progressive legislators and their social-service allies have made (welfare recipients) a victimized, protected class,” Macdonald wrote in his column last week. “It’s none of your business how much of your money they get and spend. Who are you to question it? Just shut up and pay!”

He said his goal was not necessarily to shame people who are on welfare, but to reduce fraud and abuse.

Critics have called out Macdonald for trying to “name and shame” welfare recipients, while others questioned whether a registry would even be legal.

But the mayor, who is up for re-election in November, has gotten some mileage out of the controversy. Several national media outlets reported on his proposal last week, including The Washington Post.

Macdonald also made an appearance over the weekend on “Fox and Friends Weekend,” a nationally televised program, in which he lamented a lack of support for his idea.

“What really hurts is that the legislators from Lewiston are basically stabbing me in the back,” he said on the program. “Every time I put (proposals) in, none of them support them and yet I’m overwhelmingly elected by the people up there and this is what they’ve elected me for.”

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