Lepage Rolls Out New Welfare Reforms

Updated 10 months ago

Should Mainers be using welfare benefits to buy alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets? If Governor LePage has his way they won’t be. LePage introduced four new bills he hopes will help crack down on welfare fraud in Maine.

“Everybody in their lifetime will go through a period where they hit a bump in the road or may need some help. I want to be the first one in line to help, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of,” LePage told reporters at a Monday morning press briefing.

The governor’s new plan would prohibit Mainers who use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs from using those cash benefits to buy alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets or use them for bail money.

The plan would also prohibit people from using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards out of state and require job ready TANF recipients to look for work prior to receiving benefits.

According to DHHS data, in one 18-month span more than $1.5 million was spent out of state using Maine issued EBT cards. During a separate 6 month span, more than 500 people made 2,600 transactions totaling another $830,000.

“We can eliminate all of these transactions with legislation that does not allow out of state purchases,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

The governor said authorities are also seeing EBT cards being traded for drugs. As a result, LePage plans to put pictures of TANF recipients on their EBT cards, something he does not need legislative approval to do.

LePage introduced the bills with House Republican Leader Ken Fredette who sponsors two of the welfare bills introduced Monday. Both LePage and Fredette fired back at critics who accuse Republicans of waging a war on poor people.

“So Republicans understand poverty, many of us have lived poverty, and these bills are not aimed at hurting or discouraging or disparaging people in poverty,” Fredette told reporters. “It’s about resources and a culture of moving Maine forward and identifying the importance of having a good work ethic if you’re able bodied.”

The proposals are drawing heat from Democrats and advocates for the poor who are calling them pure political stunts.

“Most families work hard and try to follow the rules. These policies just create more obstacles that will burden low income families as they try to move forward,” said Sara Gagne-Holmes, Executive Director of Maine Equal Justice Partners.

Democratic leaders seemed willing to listen on some of the measures.
“Democrats are not interested in, nor have ever supported, these funds going to buy alcohol, cigarettes and bail and lottery tickets. That’s absurd,” said House Speaker Mark Eves.

But Eves says they remain opposed to the work search provisions which he says hurts families fleeing domestic violence by delaying TANF benefits.

“One in four families fleeing domestic violence are going to be required to go through this,” Eves said. “This is a proposal that is out of touch with those families in crisis who are just trying to get on their feet.”

The four bills will get a public hearing in the Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday.

  • Holly Mcewen

    Well it is about time someone sticks up for the working people! Thank you Gov. LaPage!

  • Jordan Wooldridge

    Agreed, anyone against this either abuses the system themselves or is a moron, this state spends so much time “protecting” the poor that working people become poor paying for lazy people i understand not everyone on state aid is lazy but we need to crack down on people abusing the system.

    • Kori


  • Amanda Nickerson

    Why does anyone have an issue with this? Out of state spending, and picture ID on the card are great ideas to help cut the fraud. (Although picture ID only goes so far. I do hope they will issue a card for both parents in the household, or put both pictures on the card so one parent isnt always the one forced to go shopping. ) As far as able bodied folks having to job search in advance, I’m sure they write in a loophole for victims of domestic violence, if you have filed a police report/protection order, you may be granted pass for a few weeks. But I would make them supply a copy of the reports. As for prohibiting the use of cards for alcohol tobacco ect. We will have to start giving vouchers for bills not able to buy at store (electric/rent) because as it stands they can access the cash benifits at any atm. So we need to eliminat the ATM ability to truly shut down the fraud. Lepage has the right idea, he just needs to think about all the details.

  • beth

    I dont agree with out of state EBT purchases my mother was very sick and lived in mass a kind friend was nice enough to drop me off there but if not for my EBT card i would not have been able to eat where would the justice be in takeing that away?

  • Made in America.

    What if you have a child that is taken to a hospital out of state because that is the only one that can help them . You are depending on you food stamps allready.

    • Donna

      I believe Governor LaPage is right. I am 58 years old and this is the first time I have seen a Gov. with this much passion for our state. Gov. LaPage is not afraid to speak up and doesn’t care about popular opinion. I find his reasoning and conclusions to be right on target. I like the idea of over-hauling our very generous state government. I especially appreciate his clear conviction on fraud and abuse within our government, particularly in the Food Stamp program. I applaud you Gov.LaPage, Thank you for your service and your Hutzspa!

  • Kori

    In my experience, the state seems to only help those who do not want to help themselves!!! I have been down & out myself & because I didn’t have a child & made too much $ on “unemployment” I was not able to get a lick of help!!! More needs to be done to overhaul the state assistance program! It seems you can’t get any help unless your on drugs or get yourself pregnant or both – and it’s not right that the honest & hard-working class have to pay for that crap, but yet can’t get help when they need it!!