Maine Lawmakers’ Entitlement Reform Builds on Previous Successes

Published September 9, 2016

A bill approved by Maine lawmakers earlier this year took effect nearly twenty years after the passage of federal entitlement reforms, building on those reforms at the state level.

In August 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was approved by federal lawmakers, reforming how the federal government’s entitlement program worked. A few weeks before PRWORA’s twentieth anniversary, a new law reforming the operation of Maine’s entitlement programs took effect.

The new reforms took effect in late July, restricting the use of entitlement cash benefits for purchases such as adult entertainment services, alcohol and tobacco, government lottery tickets, and tattoos. Individials receiving government entitlements through Maine’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, administered by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

State Lawmakers Leading
Nic Horton, a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, says the state’s reforms are an example of how lawmakers from both political parties can work together to help truly needy people get back on their feet.

“Maine’s latest welfare reform initiative is a good reminder that states have an important role to play in reducing government dependency and ensuring limited welfare dollars are preserved for those who need help the most,” Horton said. “Maine has already made great strides in this area by reinstating work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents on food stamps. As a result of these efforts, the number of able-bodied childless adults on food stamps in Maine has dropped by more than 90 percent, and now these adults who are going back to work are seeing their incomes skyrocket.”

Truly Helping People
Horton says Maine lawmakers are leading the field by working together.

“When was the last time a government program shrunk by even nine percent, much less 90 percent,” Horton said. “It’s an incredible story about the power of commonsense. Thanks to these reforms, Maine is becoming a national leader in welfare reform and other states are taking notice.”

Protecting Taxpayers’ Money
Krysta West, director of communications for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, says the Maine law protects taxpayers well, but federal revisions to entitlement programs could allow more protections.

“Federal law defines TANF as a cash benefit,” West said. “For that reason, any further change would have to come from Washington. While that loophole may still exist, this new law empowers shopkeepers to deny sales when they witness EBT [Electronic Benefit Transfer] recipients withdrawing funds from an ATM to purchase a prohibited item. The stiff penalties for violations will also serve as a strong deterrent.”