Testimony: Preserving Welfare Benefits for the Truly Needy
Testimony in Support of LD 182, “An Act to Create a 9-month Time Limit on General Assistance Benefits for Able-bodied Adults Without Dependents,” LD 183, “An Act to Incorporate Time Limits on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program into Municipal General Assistance Programs,” LD 268, “An Act to Establish a 45-day Municipal Residency Requirement for General Assistance Programs,” LD 364, “An Act to Prohibit the Use of General Assistance as a Replacement for Available Resources,” and LD 454, “An Act to Establish a 180-day State Residency Requirement for Municipal General Assistance.”
Senator Baldacci, Representative Meyer, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Health and Human Services, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as director of policy for Maine Policy Institute. We are a “free market think tank,” a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of LDs 182 183, 268, 364, and 454.
While the unemployment rate is low, the workforce participation rate is dismal compared to the national average and our neighbors. This should tell us that now is the time to review what incentives may be keeping Mainers out of the workforce, or working just enough to not lose social assistance benefits.
During the previous administration, DHHS tightened certain welfare programs with reforms like lifetime limits on benefits and work requirements, and saw significant benefits to the labor force and state budget.
A report compiled by the governor’s Office of Policy Management and state economist in April 2016 tracked employment and wage records for nearly 7,000 able-bodied adults as they cycled off food stamps. After the first year, these adults’ incomes rose 114% on average—a combined $18 million—because they re-entered the workforce and broke out of the cycle of dependence that state welfare benefits can facilitate.
This committee has an opportunity to reaffirm the ultimate goal of welfare in order to allow more Mainers to get out of the system and become self-sufficient.
We commend Sen. Brakey for submitting these pieces of common sense legislation. These bills will significantly contribute to a more vibrant workforce, drive higher incomes for hard-working Mainers, and protect taxpayers against waste.
LD 182 would limit receipt of General Assistance within a period of 5 years for any able-bodied individual without dependents to 275 days (about 9 months). LD 183 would specify that those who have received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits for 60 months—the current lifetime limit—would be ineligible for municipal general assistance, unless they have been ineligible for TANF for five years.
LD 454 would require applicants for municipal general assistance be a resident of the state of Maine for at least 180 days. Similarly, LD 268 would require a municipal general assistance (GA) beneficiary to have been a resident of the municipality in which they are applying for benefits for at least 45 days. It also would remove the requirement that a municipality provide GA to someone who is unhoused who applies for it, and it would remove the prohibition on municipalities setting their own durational residency requirement to receive GA.
Current law provides no mechanism for municipalities to ensure that those who apply for GA are bona fide residents. Today, “resident” in section 4307 applies to any “person who is physically present in a municipality with the intention of remaining in that municipality.”
With such little assurance that a GA beneficiary is even a resident of the particular municipality in which they are applying, administration of this program is hardly fair to those who actually have “intention of remaining.”
LD 364 would ensure that general assistance beneficiaries have exhausted every other available resource to them before turning to the taxpayers to fund their lives. It would help to prevent fraudulent payments by requiring Mainers who take GA to account for why they require financial assistance from the state.
These five bills would inject commonsense requirements into Maine’s overlapping welfare schemes and help to uphold the highest levels of accountability. Maine’s private sector workforce has barely reached its pre-lockdown job levels; they are sorely needed.
Please deem LDs 182 183, 268, 364, and 454 “Ought To Pass” and safeguard against abuse of these crucial resources, dedicated to those who are truly struggling, and not for those who are able to support themselves. Thank you for your time and consideration.