*AUGUSTA* - Democratic lawmakers in the Maine House of Representatives on Wednesday voted along party lines to roll back the Governor Paul R. LePage Administration requirement that all Maine able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits must work, volunteer, or attend a vocational class in order to maintain their benefits after three months.
The bill, LD 1052, received initial approval in the House with a vote of 79 to 65.
"We can never truly transform our welfare programs to encourage and incentivize work as long as there is this kind of resistance in the Legislature," said Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Mary Mayhew. "I am troubled by this vote by Democratic lawmakers which is fundamentally counter to the Governor's focus of moving people from poverty to prosperity through employment, not through continued dependency on welfare which has trapped people in poverty."
The LePage Administration policy requires ABAWDs to work 20 hours per week, volunteer about one hour per day, or attend vocational training as a condition of receiving benefits beyond three months. Individuals who don't comply are still eligible to receive another three months of benefits every 36 months.
In a party-line vote, Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee on May 4 had voted in favor of the bill to waive this commonsense requirement outside of the most urbanized parts of Maine. The bill was sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Scott Hamann of South Portland, Maine's fourth largest city. DHHS had testified before the committee's vote that rural Maine is actually seeing higher rates of compliance with the new work requirement than more urban regions with lower unemployment rates.
After implementation, the number of ABAWDs on SNAP in Maine dropped from approximately 12,000 to 2,500. The move has garnered national attention and praise.
"Maine does not need welfare exceptions and loopholes, it needs policies that encourage the transition from welfare to work and create an expectation of eventual self-sufficiency," added Mayhew. "Those who are able to work should work, or be engaged in an activity like volunteering to gain valuable work experience. We are working with Maine's career centers to help provide some additional support and job search training in an effort to help people find a job or an opportunity to volunteer. We must continue to do all that we can to ensure that scarce taxpayer dollars are helping those who are truly in need, while reducing dependence on government support and welfare programs."
"Our effort to reform welfare is working and it has the overwhelming support of Maine people," added Governor Paul LePage. "The Senate must listen to Mainers and oppose this out-of-touch legislation. A vote for this bill is a vote to revert back to the days of abuse and misuse of benefits in a welfare system with no accountability."