Dem speaker’s first bill aims to ease welfare-to-work transition

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. BDN photo by Gabor Degre.

Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves’ first legislative push involves a proposal designed to smooth the transition from welfare to work.

Eves’ “Ticket to Work” bill, which his office announced Thursday, is aimed at making sure recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits receive training that prepares them for jobs during the five years they’re allowed benefits under the welfare program. Under the bill, the state Department of Health and Human Services would assess the skills of TANF recipients and identify the training they need to qualify for work.The most recent data available from DHHS show the state had 9,200 TANF cases covering 15,300 children in December 2012.

That a Democratic speaker’s first legislative push is a bill aimed at helping along the transition from welfare to work is a sign the leaders of the Democrats’ new legislative majorities are searching for some areas of common ground with Republicans. While Democrats recaptured majorities in both the House and Senate in November’s elections, they don’t have the two-thirds margins they would need to override vetoes from Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

The state’s welfare programs have been a popular target for LePage during his two years in office. LePage’s first budget, passed in 2011, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on TANF recipients, a move that has led to a decrease in TANF recipients. The budget also allowed the state to cut off TANF benefits to convicted drug felons who failed a series of drug tests, though the state never implemented that portion of the budget.

Already this year, LePage’s administration has proposed additional welfare limits, including a measure prohibiting convicted drug felons from receiving TANF benefits and another that would bar food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy soft drinks and taxable snack foods.

“We need our anti-poverty programs to work better,” Eves said in a statement. “We must provide the tools to help people pull their families out of poverty rather than simply slashing programs and shifting costs.”