Erecting a fence around Maine’s ‘welfare cliff’

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is gearing up to introduce another welfare reform bill, similar to one we’ve heard about before.

LePage is holding a news conference this morning to unveil a new proposal for a tiered welfare system in Maine. Essentially, it would eliminate the “welfare cliff,” which causes recipients to lose all benefits the moment their income rises above a certain threshold.

That can result in them being even less able to afford basic necessities than they were before the raise that made them ineligible. 

The idea is that by adding tiers to the eligibility scale, welfare recipients will be eased off government assistance, rather than dropped completely. It ensures that beneficiaries of welfare programs reap the benefits of moving a few rungs up the economic ladder, rather than being punished for it.

If that sounds familiar, there’s good reason. It might be because LePage has championed the approach before. Republicans, including House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, tried to pass bills to study the welfare cliff in the previous Legislature, but Democrats have opposed them. 

Or it might be because this year, Rep. Drew Gattine — the Democratic House chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee — has his own bill to keep Mainers from careening over the welfare cliff.

So can a deal get done? Will LePage and Gattine make for strange bedfellows in this welfare reform effort? Will Democrats, who saw the GOP successfully wield welfare reform like a fiery sword in the last election, come on board?

It’s hard to say without seeing more details of LePage’s plan, and how they stack up against Gattine’s.

Side note: Maine Equal Justice Partners, a nonprofit legal aid firm and advocate for the poor, will host its own news conference today to support Gattine’s bill and to discuss research it’s conducted on the welfare cliff in Maine.

The group is skepitcal of LePage’s welfare reform efforts, which it says “seek to stigmatize the poor while making the state’s anti-poverty programs less effective.”

Keep watching today for more information. Last but not least, avid readers will know that what you’re reading right now is the BDN Daily Brief, written at the crack of dawn every weekday morning to keep you up to date on all the goings-on in Augusta. Newbies should know that you can subscribe to receive the Daily Brief in your email inbox, by clicking here. — Mario Moretto.

Snow day bill becomes law

Remember winter? It wasn’t that long ago. It was long, cold, and covered in several feet of snow. Lots of school days were canceled, leaving districts with the prospect of extending the school year well into summer vacation.

Not anymore. A bill to solve that problem — by Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias — is now law. The bill lets local school districts add up to one hour to a school day. Five such extensions would count as making up one day lost to Father Winter.

Districts will be allowed to make up five lost days with the one-hour extensions. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Maine could extend college loan tax credits to out-of-state grads

About 2,600 graduates of Maine’s public colleges and universities already enroll in a state tax credit program that reimburses them for student loan payments as long as they stay in Maine after graduation.

The program, known alternately as “Opportunity Maine” or the Maine Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, was championed by Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland back when he was the leader of the state’s League of Young Voters. The group spearheaded the effort to create the credit back in 2007.

Now, Alfond wants to expand the credit to some students who attend out-of-state colleges but return to Maine after graduation. It’s supposed to put a big stopper in Maine’s oft-discussed “brain drain.”

“Our kids want to return home to Maine – with newly minted degrees in hand – to begin their careers; however, they’re overly burdened by debt and often feel compelled to seek higher incomes in other states in order to tackle their student loans,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, in a written statement. “This bill says to them:  ‘Come home to Maine where you can put your degree, your skills, and your experiences to work and we will help you tackle your student loans’.”

Alfond’s bill, LD 1383, is scheduled for a work session in the Taxation Committee today at 1 p.m. — Mario Moretto.

LePage vetoes 3 more bills

They are:

— Mario Moretto

Reading list

Dan Cashman gets ‘Weird’

Readers of this blog may know Dan Cashman best as the Democratic PR operative who ran communications for Emily Cain’s CD2 campaign last year after serving in a similar role for Rep. Mike Michaud in the 2012 CD2 campaign. But in the Bangor area, he’s also well-known as the host of “The Nite Show with Dan Cashman,” a local take on the popular TV format pioneered by Johnny Carson and continued today by the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, Conan O’Brien and — sometimes, it seems — countless others.

Anyway, “Weird” Al Yancovic, was a surprise guest on Cashman’s show this weekend, when he interrupted a segment wherein Cashman and a local musician performed mashups of his songs. It’s pretty great. Check it out, here. HT to the BDN’s Emily Burnham for spotting the clip.

Yancovic will perform on the Maine State Pier in Portland on July 26. — Mario Moretto.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.