Welfare Reform Takes Center Stage At State House
Talk around the state house was once again dominated by proposed budget cuts. Monday, the governor’s proposed welfare and MaineCare spending cuts and reforms took center stage at the state house. “We have some meaningful welfare reforms that we believe is going to make welfare more of a transition for people and not a lifestyle,” said LePage spokesman Dan DeMeritt. “Help move people to independence and work.”The changes include a freeze on MaineCare eligibility for many working parents with income over 133% of the federal povery level, a five year cap on welfare benefits, work & job search requirements for welfare recipients, and making legal non-citizens ineligible for state welfare benefits.The governor’s spokesperson says the federal government doesn’t cover legal aliens for the first five years they’re in the country, leaving the burden on states, costing Maine taxpayers $10-million a year. He says Maine is one of a few states that provide legal non-citizens with welfare benefits. “We want to send a message that Maine is not a destination for people coming here to be on welfare.”Opponents, like Dr. Ralph Carmona, President of the League of United Latin American Citizens, say it would cause emergency room visits to skyrocket and the children of legal aliens will be the ones to suffer. “You have people who are coming here who are going to be part of the future,” says Dr. Carmona. “They’re going to be afraid to seek public assistance.”Others told lawmakers the five year cap on welfare benefits doesn’t give people enough time to get back on their feet. “I was on welfare as an adult for almost 6 1/2 years and will never need it again,” says Heidi Hart, grew up on welfare but rose out of pverty and now practices law. “I will pay far more in taxes in my lifetime then I ever took out of the system. The cost benefit analysis of my story weighs in favor of human investment. I hope that you will remember my daughter and me when you are making decisions that will affect people’s lives and opportunities.” Public testimony on the governor’s proposed welfare reforms continues Tuesday.