Maine required healthy, childless food stamp recipients to work, and...

It’s a case of miracles and wonders up in the Pine Tree State, folks. A report from Rachel Sheffield and Robert Rector at the Daily Signal takes a look at welfare programs and efforts to reform them, particularly in the area of food stamps. They note that one of the fastest growing segments of welfare programs over the last decade has been applications for food stamps by ABAWDs, or able bodied adults without children between the ages of 18 and 49. These are folks who are determined to be otherwise able to work but without a source of income. The total cost of these programs in 2014 was $83.1B.


In Maine they took some steps to make the program more efficient last year, much to the dismay of social justice advocates. The Governor put a new program in place which requires ABAWDs desiring food stamps to put in some effort.

In response to the growth in food stamp dependence, Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, recently established work requirements on recipients who are without dependents and able-bodied. In Maine, all able-bodied adults without dependents in the food stamp program are now required to take a job, participate in training, or perform community service.

Job openings for lower-skill workers are abundant in Maine, and for those ABAWD recipients who cannot find immediate employment, Maine offers both training and community service slots. But despite vigorous outreach efforts by the government to encourage participation, most childless adult recipients in Maine refused to participate in training or even to perform community service for six hours per week. When ABAWD recipients refused to participate, their food stamp benefits ceased.

You’ll note that the requirements here aren’t exactly onerous. If you do have some sort of employment you’re supposed to report it. If not, the job training programs are free. And if you don’t wish to do either, you can put in six hours of community service per week. That doesn’t exactly take up all your free time, and yet the number of people who rejected all of those options was overwhelming.


So how did that shake out?

In the first three months after Maine’s work policy went into effect, its caseload of able-bodied adults without dependents plummeted by 80 percent, falling from 13,332 recipients in Dec. 2014 to 2,678 in March 2015.

That’s an 80% drop in 90 days. How astounding is that? And it represents a serious savings for the taxpayers in terms of keeping the state’s budget afloat, though the majority of the cash comes from the federal government. But what of all the people who were no longer receiving the benefit? Are they starving? As it turns out, the study shows that a substantial number of recipients were working “off the books.” (And likely not paying taxes on their income either.) That allowed them to qualify for any number of social welfare programs while still having a cash income. Those folks dropped off the rolls quickly rather than have to own up to their income.

Compare that for a moment to New York City, where Mayor de Blasio has essentially thrown welfare reform into reverse.

The number of New Yorkers on welfare is reportedly on the rise, with about 13,000 more people being added to the rolls during the mayor’s first year in office.

The New York Post is reporting that the cash assistance program swelled by 4 percent in 2014.

According to an advanced look at the “Poverty and Progress in New York” report, the jump comes the same year the city added around 90,000 jobs.


Are we to believe that Maine is somehow unique, with an extraordinary number of residents signing up on the dole when they don’t actually qualify or are otherwise able to work but choose not to? Or perhaps New York City is just a mecca for paragons of honesty who would never short sheet the system. Both are unlikely. Welfare reform (or workfare, as we once called it) is being crushed by progressive elements at all levels of government and the results speak for themselves. What’s happening in Maine should be the benchmark for how to move forward rather than a target of criticism by Democrats.


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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024