April 7, 2015 / 6:08 AM / 5 years ago

Maine's Republican governor renews welfare-reform push

BRUNSWICK, Maine (Reuters) - Maine Governor Paul LePage on Monday revived legislation to crack down on welfare fraud, making good on a 2014 campaign promise to tighten restrictions on the state’s public assistance programs and help speed the transition from “welfare to work.”

LePage’s bill would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to apply for three jobs before receiving state aid, while prohibiting use of electronic benefit cards to purchase tobacco, liquor, tattoos, lottery tickets or to pay for bail.

The bill would also ban the use of benefit cards for purchases outside the state.

“This legislation is about a fundamental culture shift in Maine’s economy and government,” LePage, a Republican, said.

Several of the measures had been rejected by the previous legislature, but LePage, who easily won re-election last November, said the reforms deserved a second chance.

“Mainers spoke loudly in favor of welfare reform this November and the composition of the legislature has changed as a result,” LePage said.

Democrats lost control of the Maine Senate in the November elections but retained their majority in the House.

Democrats, who battled constantly with the outspoken LePage during his first term, struck a more conciliatory tone on Monday.

“We are looking to find common ground with the governor on welfare reform,” said Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves. “As we know, the best anti-poverty program is a job.”

The governor, a self-made businessman who was raised in poverty, has long leveraged his hardscrabble upbringing to argue for a “tough-love” approach to welfare.

Under LePage, Maine has begun printing photos on welfare cards to discourage fraud and has proposed to cut non-disabled 19- and 20-year-olds from the state’s Medicaid program.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Beech

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