Shorter lifetime limit, pot ban among latest Maine welfare change proposals

Good morning from Augusta, where a mass gathering is expected at the State House for hearings on a number of bills that would make changes to Maine’s social services programs, particularly Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

By our count, there are at least 10 bills related to TANF on today’s public hearing docket, which begins at noon, and they cover a broad spectrum of proposals.

We won’t list them all, but here are some highlights:

  • LD 33, from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, would decrease the lifetime limit on receiving TANF from five years to three years, the same as Gov. Paul LePage’s two-year budget proposal. Based on January enrollment, that would cut 1,500 of 7,800 children from the program. When LePage took office, there were more than 25,000 in the program.
  • LD 338, along with some other bills, seeks to increase the TANF housing allowance from $200 to $300 and make the program available to two-parent families under the same criteria as apply to single-parent families. That proposal would cost $24.9 million over the next two years, according to the Legislature’s fiscal office.
  • There are a number of bills that propose various methods of increasing work participation requirements in the TANF program or improving associated work training programs.
  • LD 1052 would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to require TANF applicants to complete a written screening to determine their likelihood of illegal drug or substance use. Based on the results, the department could then order a drug test. LD 1075 proposes a similar system.
  • LD 1418 would prohibit the purchase of retail marijuana products using the electronic benefits transfer system, which is how TANF and food stamps recipients receive their benefits.

TANF and other social service programs have long been a focus for the Republican governor. He and the Republican-led Legislature passed the five-year TANF limit that took effect in 2012 and has led to sharply reduced rolls.

However, Democrats have controlled at least one legislative chamber since 2013, so they’ve been able to play many of LePage’s welfare proposals to a tie. That will likely happen this year in budget negotiations, where the real heat around welfare should be.

Even so, the hearings will likely go on for hours. As usual, sponsors and legislators will be allowed to testify first and won’t have to abide by time limits. That will cause some grumbling among the lobbyists and members of the public who will have to wait their turn.

However, the committee appears to be throwing them a bit of a bone: Testimony time limits will be stretched to four minutes, a minute longer than usual. Here’s a soundtrack they can listen to as they fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Collins, King applaud paper company trade war finding. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are praising the U.S. Department of Commerce for a finding that Catalyst Paper, which along with fellow producer J.D. Irving employs 1,000 Mainers, did not receive significant subsidies from the Canadian government. The ruling means the company will not be charged fees for its production of supercalendered paper. The finding, according to the senators, reverses a 2015 action in which the subsidies for Catalyst and J.D. Irving were computed based on subsidies for two other Canadian paper producers. “We will continue to press the Department of Commerce to complete a fair and fact-based investigation of Irving, to which it is entitled,” said the senators in a written statement. King, Collis and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, spoke out against the tariff in October 2015. — Christopher Cousins
  • Recommendations on long-awaited mining laws could advance today. We know, we know. Based on statements from lawmakers, we have told you in the Daily Brief more than once that committee recommendations on a handful of bills that address large-scale metallic mineral mining are imminent, yet the bills remain in committee. For whatever it’s worth, those bills are scheduled for work sessions in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee again this morning. Over the weekend, the committee’s clerk sent around a summary of a major amendment to LD 820, which figures to be where the major action on mining could happen this session — or not. LD 820 is sponsored by Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, who is the former head of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Mining and the rules around it have been under debate in the Legislature for several years. — Christopher Cousins
  • Group buys Maine TV ad time to pressure Collins. The progressive group Allied Progress is pressuring Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to oppose an effort by a Georgia senator to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “prepaid rule,” which protects prepaid debit card holders from certain predatory fees and penalties. The group estimates that Americans have lost nearly $43 million through prepaid debit card scams and that at least 10 percent of Maine households use the cards. — Christopher Cousins
  • DraftKings has stepped into the debate over a Maine fantasy sports bill proposal. The online fantasy sports giant is urging Maine lawmakers to pass LD 1320 with an email campaign and online form that sends a message to legislators. The bill, which was prompted by DraftKings and sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, would require fantasy sports contests to register with the state, pay a registration fee based on gross revenues and be subject to certain consumer protections while exempting fantasy sports from gaming law. DraftKings has said the law “provides clarity under state law on the legality of fantasy sports contests.” The bill was the subject of a public hearing hosted by the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee last week. A work session has not yet been scheduled. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd
  • LePage will address taxes today during a State House news conference. That is scheduled for 10 a.m. in the governor’s Cabinet Room. This is the third news conference he’s held in the past week. The others were on education funding and energy prices. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The Legislature is out today, but there’s a heavy committee schedule with TANF and mining topping the agenda, as you’ve read already. Here are a few more notables:

  • A task force on Maine’s workforce will hold its first meeting. It’ll be mostly a planning meeting for the group, which is tasked by law with submitting a report and suggested legislation to the full Legislature by March 2018.
  • President Donald Trump and early voting will be up for debate today. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hold hearings on a bill from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, that would force candidates running for president or vice president in Maine to file five years worth of tax returns with the secretary of state and another from Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland, that would enshrine a system of early voting in the Maine Constitution. Berry’s bill was prompted by the Republican president, who bucked tradition held since the 1970s by not releasing his tax returns, which has led to protests from progressives.
  • The labor committee will hear testimony on a smattering of bills, including two on immigration. A bill from Rep. Owen Casas, I-Rockport, would allow work-authorized immigrants with professional licenses in other states or countries to have temporary licenses in their fields while working to meet Maine requirements. Another from Rep. Phyllis Ginzler, R-Bridgton, would require Maine employers to make “a good faith inquiry” on whether a job applicant is a U.S. citizen or not. If not, the employer must use a federal program to verify work eligibility. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

2 days of potty jokes thanks to the Boston Museum of Science

A few hundred Cub Scouts from Maine spent Saturday and Sunday on an overnight trip to the Boston Museum of Science. With my second kid now going through Scouts, this was my third time “sleeping” at the museum.

“I can meet you in the sewer,” was the text message I received from one of the other adult chaperones, which is probably a real head-scratcher for anyone without any context. The “sewer” she was talking about was one of the exhibits, built under a staircase with an aquarium built into it. Of course, it was my son’s favorite.

When it was bedtime, my 6-year-old and I bedded down behind and underneath the life-sized tyrannosaurus rex, giving us an — ahem — great view of the rex, um, walking away.

“I hope he doesn’t toot,” said my boy, raising snickers from Cub Scouts all around. I was a little disappointed in him until I realized that whatever a T-Rex toot smells like is one of the unanswered mysteries of ancient history.

As it turns out, my Cub Scout raised a question even the venerable museum hasn’t answered. Here’s your soundtrack, which is kind of gross but I’m including it just so I can impress him. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.