By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
The Maine State Legislature is now in full session. If you’re one of the many average people who religiously gets up each morning, braves the elements and trudges to work to support yourself and your family, then it’s time again to put a Herculean grip on your wallet or purse.
Yes, it’s that time again when social workers, educators, lawyers, career politicians, theater directors, counselors and some unemployable souls come together, don the hat of State Legislator and attempt to tackle complex issues that are usually well above their paygrade. This stands to cost you, the taxpayer, some money.
Yet, as a possible victim of their decisions do you have any idea what’s going on under the copper dome in Augusta? Probably not.
A few days ago, I saw a Letter to the Editor complaining about the lack of coverage on how local legislators were voting on bills that had a direct effect on the community. Therefore, as a public service we will focus on certain bills, give a brief summary and record how your local legislator voted. So when you go to the polls to vote, you won’t be voting blindly.
Over the last five-plus years we have listened to your concerns about the abuse of the welfare system. I have heard you at coffee shops, malls and the grocery store. I have watched the forgotten elderly waiting in the express line scrimping change to pay for two or three items. Meanwhile, the young unemployable and non-citizens wait in line with full carts, presenting the cashier either an EBT card or a voucher for payment. Not surprisingly, it is the downtown working poor that show the most indignation towards those on state aid.
Unfortunately, it is a daunting task to put in place a system where your tax money is used to help the truly needy, not the lame and lazy. Several impediments stand in our way, including but not limited to community activist groups, such as the Maine People’s Alliance, Equal Maine Justice Partners, Pine Tree Legal and the Maine Civil Liberties Union. Legislative session after session, with the help of many in both parties, they prevail.
In today’s column I will be listing several bills before the current Legislature dealing with Maine General Assistance. These bills will be followed, and taxpayers will be informed on how their legislative representatives voted on them. In a future column, we will identify current legislators who march to the beat of the aforementioned activist groups.
Here are four pieces of legislation we will be following and making you aware of the results.
LD10—Current law establishes 120-day period of disqualification from receiving any General Assistance benefits for a person who is found to have obtained GA by making a false or fraudulent representation to the municipal administrator. This bill increases the disqualification period from three to 24 months.
LD33—This bill reduces the lifetime limits on receiving public assistance benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF). The current lifetime limit is five years. This bill reduces that limit to three years.
LD36—This bill establishes a limit on the duration that certain persons can receive benefits under the General Assistance program. That limit is no more than nine months (275 days) every five years for applicants who are capable of working and who do not have any dependents.
LD390—This is the Governor’s proposed biennial budget for FY 2018-2019. A section in this legislation repeals an amendment enacted in 2014 that expressly allows certain asylum seekers and other non-citizens to receive General Assistance benefits.
So to all you local politicians, we will be watching you.