Welfare Reform is Working for Maine

June 8, 2016
Sen. Eric Brakey
Originally printed in the New Auburn News

Welfare reform is working for Maine.

When I was first elected two years ago to represent the people of Auburn, New Gloucester, Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls in the Maine Senate, voters made one thing very clear: they wanted welfare reform.  Since that time, as Senate Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, I have made welfare reform my top legislative priority.

While there is much work still to be done, we have made strides forward in the Legislature.  We finally passed legislation to ban the use of welfare dollars for purchases of alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets. We also increased penalties for those who commit fraud to receive General Assistance welfare benefits.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of how welfare reform is improving the lives of Maine people was a change to the SNAP program (commonly known as food stamps), requiring able-bodied adults without dependents, receiving benefits longer than three months, to work, volunteer or participate in job training.  Liberals in the Legislature fought to repeal these work requirements, calling them harsh and unrealistic, but today, the results speak for themselves.

In the first three months after work requirements went into effect, nearly 80 percent of able-bodied adults without dependents were dropped from the program for refusal to participate in work, volunteering or job training, with caseloads falling from 13,332 recipients in December 2014 to 2,678 in March 2015.

But the most important result is what took place one year after these work requirements took effect: the average income of these able-bodied adults (both those who continued to qualify for the SNAP program and those who did not) increased by 114 percent, far outpacing income growth for Mainers at-large. These work requirements gave these able-bodied adults the push they needed to re-enter the work force, work more hours or find jobs with higher wages.

As Forbes Magazine has reported, “Thanks to this higher income, poverty rates have declined and now, working able-bodied adults are earning more than enough on average to bring them above the federal poverty line. Better still, the higher wages more than offset lost benefits, meaning those leaving welfare were better off than when they were trapped in government dependency. After Maine implemented its reforms, these able-bodied adults saw their incomes go up by a combined $18 million per year.”

The SNAP work requirement is effective public policy. Government should aid those in need, but welfare should be a hand-up, not a  hand-out. Able-bodied, non-elderly adults who receive cash, food or housing assistance from taxpayers should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of these programs. Giving welfare to those who refuse to take steps to help themselves is unfair to taxpayers and fosters a harmful dependence among welfare recipients.

As your State Senator, I will continue working to reform Maine’s welfare programs, focusing efforts on empowering independence, not enabling dependence.