Gov. Paul LePage of Maine has led the charge to welfare reform in his state. While Democrats had initially called it a war on the poor, many are now signing off on the idea as Republican officials work to cut out welfare abuse.
MPBN News reported that Democratic officials are being forced to cooperate with welfare cuts after Republicans increased their lead in the House and Senate. Several Democrats have signed on to welfare reform bills that would deny welfare to any residents that are committing fraud.
In October 2014, polls showed that more than half of Maine residents supported welfare cuts, even though they did not pass through the Democratic leadership.
However, the 2014 elections saw the Republicans gain important ground in the House and Senate. Now the bills that were denied last time are being reconsidered.
While many Republicans still support the welfare cuts, the biggest change has come in Democratic leadership.
Republican Sen. Roger Katz explained: “I think things have changed in the last two years. I think the voters have spoken loud and clear.”
Katz has worked tirelessly to convince Democratic officials that welfare cuts are necessary, especially in the food stamp program. He spoke to the Health and Human Services Committee and has realized that Democrats respond well to certain phrasing.
"Welfare reform — that's sensible welfare reform — is a priority out there," he described. "And I think the Republicans knew it two years ago, and I think the Democrats have realized it now. So I think, for instance, just on my bill to ban junk food for food stamps, I have Democratic sponsors that I didn't have the last time around on this bill."
He supports his reasoning for cutting junk food by explaining that many of these foods lead to obesity and heart disease.
Bethany Hamm, a program director at the Department of Health and Human Services, supports the junk food bans because she sees what people buy daily.
“Multiple Red Bulls in one purchase, Rock Star energy drinks, 1-pound bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and 3 gallons of Hersey's Ice Cream in one purchase,” she explained. “We have all seen these types of purchases occur — and it's unacceptable.”
Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe supports Katz’s bill, even though many other welfare supporters are still holding out.
“It's something that we hear time and time again from folks — that they really want to make sure that folks are getting nutritional food — and this is one approach of doing that,” McCabe said.
Michelle Lamb, director of the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, said that banning certain items would lead to more stigma for already-marginalized food stamp recipients.
“Placing restrictions on the food sup program for the purchase of taxable food items would greatly increase stigma and confusion at the grocery store and cause higher rates of food insecurity,” said Lamb.
However, Katz’s bill may be more likely to be passed than most welfare reform bills because it appears to have less restrictions and more Democratic support. Some, like the law that Kansas passed, pose more of a financial burden to recipients. Aljazeera America reported that the Kansas bill limits ATM withdrawals for those who receive welfare support.