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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Maine governor Paul LePage (R) finally has a smoking gun in his effort to restrict welfare programs — at least according to him. According to a much-hyped study conducted by the state department of Health and Human Services, recipients of social programs like SNAP and TANF used money from these programs at places like bars, smoke shops, and strip clubs.

But according to the Bangor Daily News, during the period the study was conducted, these questionable transactions accounted for just two-tenths of one percent of the total money spent from these programs. The small amount of misuse holds steady with the national trend. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, families and single parents who receive public benefits have much smaller budgets on average and spend a larger portion of their budgets on basic necessities.

LePage, however, sees any abuse of the welfare system in Maine as evidence of the need for reform. “Any amount of abuse in the system that takes away from the truly needy needs to be dealt with,” LePage’s spokeswoman told the Bangor Daily News. “We’re not uncovering anything new. There are always going to be bad actors out there. We’re simply saying, ‘We’ve got an eye on you.’”

In fact, what came to light after the study signals a larger problem with the system than LePage expected.“This information is eye-opening and indicates a larger problem than initially thought,”  LePage said in a press release. “These benefits are supposed to help families, children and our most vulnerable Mainers. Instead, we have discovered welfare benefits are paying for alcohol, cigarettes and other things that hardworking taxpayers should not be footing the bill for.”

However, it’s important to note that, according to the Daily News story, “those transactions include purchases at the checkout counter and withdrawals from on-premises ATMs. The state does not track what is purchased in EBT transactions.” So it’s highly likely that a substantial number of the hinted-at “immoral” purchases were not even made.

Similar efforts to expose fraud in social programs were attempted in Florida and Utah. Both states began drug-testing their welfare recipients to weed out drug users. There were similar results: Utah, for example, spent $25,000 to drug-test 4,730 recipients, only 12 tested positive for drugs.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, LePage is convinced there is a problem with welfare fraud in his state. The answer to this problem? Limits and restrictions to social programs like TANF and SNAP.

First, LePage would back legislation that reforms the lack of paper trail on where welfare money is spent. It’s a measure that Maine Democrats would also support, according to the Democratic House Speaker. “No one wants to see funds meant for struggling families abused,” House Speaker Mark Eves said Tuesday. “State law already forbids EBT cards from being used at liquor stores. If this list is verified, it’s time to take action. The question for the governor is, will he prosecute or politicize it? Democrats will continue to support good-faith efforts at cracking down on fraud and abuse.”

The question of whether this is a good-faith effort to stop fraud, or a political tactic to further a conservative cause, is an important one. LePage’s record on welfare reform doesn’t suggest that his intentions are sincere. In fact, LePage has been encouraging cuts to government aid throughout his term as governor. In 2012, for example, LePage said at a Republican convention: “Maine’s welfare program is cannibalizing the rest of state government. To all you able-bodied people out there: Get off the couch and get yourself a job.”

Previously, LePage instituted a five-year cap on TANF benefits, a move Democrats argue ended benefits for thousands of poor Maine residents. Just last week, Governor LePage also introduced a bill that would increase Maine’s work requirements for welfare recipients, another reform Democrats opposed.

Thus, it’s not hard to conclude that this push to investigate welfare recipients is another partisan move by a notoriously vindictive governor.

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  • daniel bostdorf

    LePage is simply the most embarrassing governor that Maine has ever had….I lived in Maine for over 20 years….and frankly…this guy is real demagogue..

    “LePage’s record on welfare reform doesn’t suggest that his intentions are sincere. In fact, LePage has been encouraging cuts to government aid throughout his term as governor. In 2012, for example, LePage said at a Republican convention: “Maine’s welfare program is cannibalizing the rest of state government. To all you able-bodied people out there: Get off the couch and get yourself a job.”

    It isnt limited to “welfare reform” … it goes to the heart of whether you love people….which in my opinion he doesn’t. He loves Lepage.

    The victimization of the poor has to stop..

    The voters of Maine will vote this sociopath out of office…

    • Independent1

      Daniel, many of us Mainers sure hope so. Problem is that it’s a 3-way race again with Cutler back running as an Independent. LePage won last time with barely over 37% of the vote because Cutler split the voting. As you pointed out, LePage has been a real embarrassment for Maine. Not only has he been pulling apart advancements that had been made in many programs over the past 15 years or so, he’s just crude in virtually everything he does – calling people names and using language you would expect from very uneducated people, not your governor.

      The first actions of LePage and the GOP legislature that were voted in with him in 2010 were to reduce the max tax rates for the wealthy and because of the reduced tax revenues cut back funding for Medicaid which left 70,000 Mainers without insurance. Fortunately, the legislature majority was switched back to the Dems in the 2012 election; but LePage is still blocking almost any of the things the Dems want to do that would benefit the poor.

      By the way, when trolls are identified and some of their comments deleted, are they still allowed to post on the NM? Middleclasstaxpayer is another troll the editors should keep an eye on. He loves to harp on what are often very inconsequential issues just to get in digs against Obama. And if he pulls up supposed facts, it’s often from websites like Breitbart.

      • daniel bostdorf

        From what I gather from Press Herald I read everyday on line, you are right on target about what LePage is doing….and Cutler will pull even more away from LePage. The Democrats have a real opportunity, provide they don’t stay lazy, and getb out the vote from those LePage and the libertarians have taken away from them.

        Regarding NM troll watching and banning etc….these mal-posters are brought to editors attention by flagging them and sending the article link to editors with specific reference to the user name and email them at : [email protected]

        There is also a considerable “dirty trick” techniques employed by right wing website posters (working in teams) who are sympathetic to GOP/Teaparty/libertarian extremism….and the agends of Karl Rove and Kovh brothers… One troll will post, another will answer, and others will join in to intentionally spam national Memo and other sites creating an attempt to hijack meaniningful free exchanges of ideas.

        Montanabill who was banned here (with dozens of others) utilized a half dozen alias’ and users names and would make a post and then answer his own posts with various users names he or she controlled…

        When editors ban, they also flag IP addresses as well and computer ID numbers so that they cant repost.

        NM editors are very alert espcially when those of us here flag and email the editors.

        Middleclasstaxpayer is on their collective radar as I have flagged and emailed editors about the behavior.

        I am all for anti-Obama/Progressives etc posting, but it has to be on topic, not bullying other posts, free from profanities and screaming and downright “cut and pasted” Fox News/Limbaugh etc comments.

        So—it is up to all of us here to flag and email editors of abuses.

        But you flag and reporting must be substantiated with the article link and offending post….or you run te risk of being temporarily not allowed to post ie “your comment is awaiting moderation.”

        Hope this helps….I own a website with commentary sections and I know how to deal with trolls and bullys too…they are not that smart…they get caught…and if they happen to use a new user name….it isn’t difficult to catch them and/or cognize same semantical patterns of posting….

        HuffPost uses artificial intelligence filters that have a thousand words and phrases that if you post any of those words and phrases you will be in permanent moderation….

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    Has anyone thought of making page submit to a drug test? I haven’t heard as much crackpot ideas coming out of anyone since the 1970s.