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May 16, 2014

Welfare study suggests new work requirements

The state released a much-anticipated, 228-page study on Thursday that provides an analysis of Maine's welfare programs and recommends several changes.

The Bangor Daily News reported the study from the Rhode Island-based Alexander Group, which received a $925,000 no-bid contract from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services last December, includes recommendations that would try to put more welfare recipients to work.

One of the recommendations from the Rhode Island-based Alexander Group is for the state to require food stamp recipients to take part in a federal work program. The state would have to apply to become one of 10 states involved in the pilot program to move forward.

The study also recommends requiring Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program recipients with extenuating circumstances, such as illness or responsibility of caring for a child under 6, to participate in training or work programs. TANF recipients with extenuating circumstances are currently exempted from the requirement.

In addition, it suggests requiring some welfare recipients to provide proof of a job search before receiving welfare benefits, encouraging the state take over the joint state-local general assistance program to streamline it. Another recommendation is for the state to request a global Medicaid waiver — one that the study's lead author, Gary Alexander, was given when he was running Rhode Island's Department of Public Welfare.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the Bangor Daily News said some of the proposals could be implemented rather soon, but others would need federal or legislative approval. She said she could not go into much further detail because she had just received the study.

"I am very interested in looking comprehensively at these programs in our $3.4 billion annual budget to ensure we are able to align resources to more effectively serve individuals and families," she told the newspaper. "We need to be looking at ensuring we have a culture focused on continuous quality improvement."

Democratic lawmakers blasted the study, echoing previous remarks aimed at the controversial decision to hire the Alexander Group in a no-bid contract.

"This is nothing more than a political document. It's a continued waste of taxpayer dollars meant to bolster the governor's election-year rhetoric," Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, said in a prepared statement.

A previous report from the Alexander Group said expanding Medicaid in Maine under the Affordable Care Act would cost the state more than $800 million over the first 10 years. A national health care analyst later told state lawmakers that the estimated cost for Medicaid expansion was likely overstated by $575 million.

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