Recently concerns have been raised regarding the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program within our welfare system. The program itself is an important part of Maine’s safety net as it focuses on getting immediate assistance to families with children.  However, the program has come under fire as a result of a Maine law passed nearly a decade ago that undermines the work component of the program.

TANF was created in 1996 under the Clinton organization. The TANF program replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The TANF program provides cash assistance to poor families with dependent children in the household. In 2011, there were more than 14,000 Maine families in the program.  It’s important to note that this welfare program was a critical step in connecting work to welfare; and, just as important, it established time limits on the benefits, bringing an end to the generational welfare system.

In short, the idea of TANF is to get the needy families in this program a good job, and then get them off welfare.  According to Governor LePage, “The TANF caseload has declined from approximately 15,000 cases in January 2011 to approximately 7,752 cases in December of 2012.” The maximum time for being on this particular welfare program is a 60-month lifetime limit, folks on this program must work at least 30 hours per week to meet federal regulations.

The problem that we face is Maine not meeting the federal work rule. That’s because Maine passed a law that says an individual may not be penalized under the TANF program if the failure to work 66is for a “good cause.”  Exemptions from work now include inclement weather, and illness, lack of transportation, or several other “good causes.”

The liberal interpretation of the work requirement is not shared by the federal government– and it shouldn’t be.   Maine law seriously undercuts the connection to work and welfare assistance, which is a vital part of the TANF program. Maine’s “good cause” law is wrong and the federal government agrees.

Now, Maine faces fines in excess of $10 million for not meeting these federal regulations from 2007 to 2010 as a direct result of the laws here in Maine. The problem will only continue to worsen until Maine changes the law and complies with the federal standard.

I believe it is time to put an end to the deliberate attempt to challenge the work requirement under the TANF program.  We are proposing a bill that will eliminate many of these exemptions that allow Mainers in the TANF program to receive welfare while failing to meet the work requirement.  It’s simple: If families who are in the program want assistance, they will have to meet the federal guidelines for the work requirement.

Bad weather, car problems and other “good causes” are simply designed to weaken the work requirement and return to the old system of welfare for life passed on from generation to generation. That’s bad for Maine families, and it’s bad for Maine taxpayers, as they will be left to foot the bill for millions of dollars as the federal government cracks down on these illegal attempts to undermine the program.