Fixing Welfare

Strengthen the Welfare Safety Net while Reducing Dependency

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Promote jobs as best cure for poverty
  • Save welfare for those truly in need
  • Stop dependency that traps families in poverty

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty in America. Since then, $16 trillion taxpayer dollars have been spent on welfare programs to eliminate those conditions.

Today, however, 15% of Americans still live in poverty; there were 19% when the initiative began. Today, 22% of children live in poverty compared to 23% in 1964. By any objective measure, the well-intended War on Poverty has been a sad and expensive failure.

The American dream is not about becoming comfortable entrapped in big government welfare programs for our subsistence. Rather, it’s to take advantage of our unique free market democracy to improve our lives, live independently, care for our families, and enjoy more happiness and freedom.

As a youth, I listened to stories of my ancestors immigrating from Canada and taking root in Northern and Central Maine. Some plowed and planted fields in Norridgewock; others operated textile looms in Waterville and Lewiston mills. They worked hard, cared for those in need, and wouldn’t dream of a becoming dependent on the government. 

From one generation to the next, we Mainers improved our lives and grew our communities through hard work, grit, and more education. For decades, our families have embraced the American can-do entrepreneurial spirit to lift ourselves to higher levels of prosperity and economic freedom.

Government has the power to help our citizens stay out of poverty by lowering the cost and complexity to start and operate a business. As companies grow they hire more workers. Those employees start climbing the economic ladder of more skills, higher pay, and less government dependency. The most effective and dignified road out of poverty is a job. The growing economy generates increased tax revenues to fund public education, national defense, ports and highways, welfare for those truly in need, and other public services.

Unfortunately, Maine government’s war on jobs during the past few decades has taken its toll. There aren’t enough good full-time jobs to keep our young workers and their families from fleeing for better opportunities out of state. For those who remain, welfare spending has doubled during the past fifteen years but the poverty rate hasn’t changed. 60% of the babies born in Maine begin their lives on welfare.

A glaring example of Maine’s misguided welfare system is our Medicaid program, called MaineCare. This program, funded by 62% federal and 38% state taxes, was originally designed to provide health care services to our most vulnerable fellow Mainers – the disabled, elderly sick, and poor. However, over the past fifteen years, career politicians have expanded enrollment to include able-bodied single adults and middle income families capable of working and providing for themselves. This deliberate increase in government dependency, during both weak and strong economies, has eroded our proud history of self-reliance and discouraged work.

The graph below shows the surge in Maine’s medical welfare enrollment during the past dozen years – 69% vs. our nearly flat population growth. 27% of Maine citizens receive taxpayer-funded health care, the 3rd highest rate in the country. Our unsustainable Medicaid spending continues to cause chronic state budget crises. $484 million of Medicaid debt was only recently repaid to Maine hospitals.

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Maine’s unaffordable welfare web also includes 249,000 food stamp recipients, the 6th highest rate in the country as a percentage of our population.

Liberal Maine politicians have made it extraordinarily easy to receive welfare benefits often without time limits, penalties for violations, or enforced work requirements. Instead of encouraging and guiding independence, case workers have been trained to quickly enroll inquiring individuals and families in nearly two dozen welfare programs. There is growing evidence that Maine has become a welfare magnet for residents in other states. Our generally low-wage taxpayers spend the 4th highest amount per person on welfare among all 50 states.

Welfare should serve as a temporary hand-up for those in need, not a permanent hand-out for those able but preferring not to work.

Maine’s welfare safety net is stretched so thin that many of the truly needy fall through the mesh. Approximately 3,100 severely disabled Mainers unable to care for themselves are on waiting lists while thousands of able-bodied and mostly single adult males receive taxpayer-funded medical welfare. This is simply wrong and should not continue.

Many truly disadvantaged fellow Americans will always need help. Government should compassionately save and strengthen our welfare programs for those individuals and families. While in Congress, I’ll fight for Washington to fund welfare block grants to Maine so that we can best care for our most at-risk families without misguided federal mandates. Maine’s unfair and unaffordable welfare system must be fixed.