|Governor Paul LePage (R-ME)|
This week, Maine NPR reports that Democrats in the Pine State are feeling the heat from Mainers, fed up with welfare abuse and fraud in their state. The rampant wrong usage with public assistance is not a new topic, as the current governor, conservative Republican Paul LePage, himself born in poverty, a victim of childhood abuse and neglect, yet went from street urchin to businessman, mayor, and Governor, has routinely exposed this problem in his home state.
Before taking into account the implications of these welfare reforms, readers should know a little more about Governor LePage.
One of the most plainspoken executives in the country, LePage the gubernatorial candidate signaled to voters his disgust for President Obama, declaring that he would tell President Obama “To go to hell”, and if he met the President, he would respond: “Get out of my state!”
His first election victory in 2010, LePage garnered a plurality of the vote in a five-way race, which increased in 2014 following a tough challenge from a well-known independent and an incumbent Democratic Congressman, Michael Michaud.
Throughout his tenure, however, LePage has pushed for welfare reform, repeatedly exposing abuse connected with the program.
In a press release outlining reform goals for his 2012-2013 budget, LePage declared:
Welfare reform was a large part of the 2012-2013 budget, which emphasized Maine will no longer be considered a welfare destination state. A new 5 year limit on welfare benefits, which aligns Maine with other states, and conforms to federal law has gone into effect. The limit does allow for certain exemptions for hardship cases - including those involving the elderly and disabled.
Drug testing has also been implemented for welfare recipients convicted of drug crimes and those who violate welfare rules now face stricter sanctions. A first offense will result in the loss of adult benefits and a second offense may lead to termination of full family benefits.
Welfare abuse features highly in some states, like Rhode Island, where recipients can step off the government dole for a month, then return to the welfare rolls for another five years. In California, Democratic legislators have discussed expanding public assistance to all residents, regardless of legal status, including Medicaid, as well as instituting a new “Office for New Americans” i.e. illegal aliens. LePage joins other Republican governors in cutting public assistance, or requiring work requirements.
In 2013, the governor announced increased investigations into SNAP/TANF abuse. In January, 2014, LePage outlined the outrageous spending at strip clubs and bars. Even though the article contended that the usage was “a tiny fraction” of uses, the fact that they are occurring alarmed the governor and reform advocates to correct the problem.
After the 2014 mid-term elections, Maine Republicans not only took over the state senate, but gained significant numbers in the state assembly. A Republican also represents Maine in the US Congress (replacing Michaud) for the first time in nearly two decades.
Instead of resting on his prior victories, LePage has ramped up his programs for welfare as well as tax reforms
Earlier this year, Maine Republicans reinstated the work requirements for receiving welfare. The renewed qualifications would require recipients to work a combined twenty-four hours a month, yet even then the number of enrollees plunged considerably, from 12,000 to 2,500.
Now, Democrats are paying attention, and following LePage’s lead.
About the Democratic shift in welfare abuse policy, Maine NPR writes:
Gov. Paul LePage's campaign against welfare abuse has been commonly derided by his opponents as a "war on the poor." But Democrats have discovered that the governor's message resonates with voters.
Never straying from his principles or goals, LePage maintained the message, and opened voters’ eyes to the real and growing problem of welfare abuse. It worked.
While conservatives lament federal officials who refuse to heed a national electorate fed up with special interest pandering and Establishment machinations (i.e. the Confirmation of Loretta Lynch), at least in the states, including a moderate-liberal New England bastion like Maine, Republican reform governors are cracking down on profligate spending and helping Americans get off their feet and work again.
If anyone has a problem with that, let me quote another fine line from Governor LePage:
“Tell them to kiss my butt!”