AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s efforts to revise Maine’s welfare-to-work rules are drawing critique from a legal aid group.
Maine Equal Justice Partners said some of the rules proposed by the state Department of Health and Human Services conflict with state and federal law. The group is urging the state to continue allowing cash benefits recipients to reject jobs that would mean less cash for their families.
Maine is facing up to $29 million in federal penalties for not satisfying work participation standards from 2007 to 2014. The new rule changes come as the state is moving toward privatizing its state and federally-funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to a New York nonprofit.
The state’s new proposed rules appear to eliminate work exemptions that Republican Gov. Paul LePage has long criticized. In its rule-making proposal, the DHHS has said the new rules “encourage work and training participation” and get rid of language that “hinders success.”
The state doesn’t typically comment on rulemaking, which had a deadline for comments on Sept. 26. The DHHS has not yet released all comments on the proposed rules to The Associated Press, which filed a public records request.
Some of Maine Equal Justice’s criticisms have to do with big policy issues, while others have to do with wording.
The DHHS’s proposed rewrite would add the words “as quickly as possible” to a section about recipients finding jobs. They would also get rid of the phrase “capable of performing” in a sentence describing the state’s goal of helping recipients finding jobs.
“These words are intended to ensure that people are not placed in circumstances in which they will be unsuccessful,” wrote the group’s public policy director Chris Hastedt.
Right now, welfare recipients in job-training programs have to earn at least 125 percent of the state minimum wage.
The legal aid group criticized the proposed rules for removing that requirement.
“It would be a step backwards in our efforts to meet the purpose of TANF/ASPIRE — that is, to truly help families reach self-sufficiency — to reduce this limit to an even lower amount than it is now,” Hastedt wrote, referring to Maine’s welfare-to-work program.
The group also praised the state for increasing reimbursement for auto repairs and auto liability insurance, but also asked for more reimbursement.