Background on Governor’s Bill (LD 1631)

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What LD 1631 would do (the original version of the bill):

  1. Establishes a Fund for the Payment of Federal Fines Imposed for Noncompliance with Federal TANF Work Participation Requirements;  requests an appropriation of $1,016,590 for that purpose;
  2. Makes the  following changes based on mistaken argument that they are needed to  meet the federal work participation rate:
  • Requires Parents as Scholars students to participate in other work activities full time in addition to going to school; and 
  • Eliminates “good cause” (except for domestic violence).  This means that those who have good reason for not participating fully in work activities will be sanctioned and lose assistance.

THESE ACTIONS ARE NOT NEEDED BECAUSE:

  1. We are meeting both federal participation rates; AND
  2. No changes we make now will change any past penalties.

Reasons to Oppose LD 1631:

  1. LD 1631 would deny access to Maine’s nationally recognized Parents as Scholars (PaS) Program for most. Requiring single parents to work full time in addition to school, study and single parenting would close doors to college to most single moms looking to improve their future through higher education.  There are not enough hours in a day to meet these requirements and be the kind of parent we all want to be.
  2. The bill ignores common sense by repealing all “good cause” reasons (except domestic violence) that protecting parents from unfair sanction when they can’t participate fully in work activities through no fault of their own.  Under this proposal when disability prevents a parent from working; or a sick child that needs their care; or they have no transportation or child care; or are snowed in; or face any other circumstance beyond their control, the Department would be allowed to cut their assistance. 
  3. Maine does not have to make these policy changes to comply with federal requirements.  We are already meeting these federal requirements according to the DHHS’s own data.  Why undermine these successful policies when there is no reason to?  Or it is this simply an excuse to make more harmful program cuts?
  4. Maine does not need to create a Fund for the Payment of Federal Fines Imposed for Noncompliance with Federal Work Participation Requirements for two reasons:
  • No penalty amount has been finally established.  It is clear that the vast majority of any future penalties will be substantially reduced because we are now in full compliance with both federal work participation rates.
  • Any penalties will not require a new general fund appropriation. Penalties are applied in two ways. 
  • First, the federal government will reduce our block grant by a certain amount.  This will not result in any program cuts. 
  • Second, the State will be required to identify additional spending in an amount commensurate with the lost federal dollars. This can easily be done by identifying state dollars being spent for TANF purposes outside of the TANF program, like tax credits that help low income families with children, OR certain funds spent by private non-profit organizations.

Support the Majority Report on LD 1631 - the majority of the HHS Committee amended LD 1631 for the better:

  1. The amendment replaces the Governor’s bill with a resolve establishing a study commission on child poverty and extreme child poverty.
  2. The commission would study the scope and magnitude of child poverty and extreme child poverty in the state, the roots of poverty and recommend policy solutions to improve the situation of children in poverty and extreme child poverty in Maine. The commission would need to submit its findings to the Legislature by November 2, 2016. 
  3. The amended bill would establish a moratorium on any new contract to administer the ASPIRE Program until the Commission has the opportunity to consider how the program might best be redesigned to reduce child poverty.

Reasons to Support the Amended version of LD 1631 (the Majority Report):

  1. Compared to the rest of the nation, the well-being of Maine children has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in recent years.  The need for a response is urgent:
  • Maine has had the sharpest increase (50 percent) of any state in the country in the number of children living in extreme poverty – or less than half the federal poverty level (about $10,000 a year for a family of three).
  • While food insecurity has declined in the rest of the nation, Maine has moved in the wrong direction. Maine currently has the third highest ranking in the U.S. for very low food security; and the highest rate of child food insecurity in New England.
  1. Despite these disturbing trends, DHHS has underspent $110 million in TANF dollars over the past several years – dollars specifically slated to help Maine families with children struggling with poverty. In effect,the Department has sat on this large sum of money that should have been used to help combat some of these disturbing trends.
  2. DHHS claim that child poverty data does not reflect poorly on their policies is based on a faulty review of the data.  In a recent Bangor Daily News Op-Ed, a DHHS representative pointed out that according to annual Kids Count survey data, the estimated number of Maine children living in extreme poverty was slightly higher in 2004 than it was in 2014 (the most recent year for which we have data).  They claim that because there were also more children getting TANF in 2004 this shows that there is no link between poverty and TANF, thus their policies are not at fault. 

However, they neglect to look at a footnote that makes clear that the sample size used in the American Community Survey was changed after 2004 in an effort to improve the reliability of the data.  Accordingly,the Kids Count data center cautions the use of any estimates from 2000-2004 for less populous states such as ours. While there are various factors that have likely contributed to the unfortunate trend of rising extreme child poverty in Maine, using the 2004 data as excuse to justify today’s troubling trends ignores the fact that we have a serious problem that must be solved.  

  1. The original version of LD 1631 works to demonize people living in poverty and to distract us from the discussion we should be having – about why people are struggling and what we can do to actually help them.  The amended version aims to answer this very important question.