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Maine House Speaker Unveils 'Ticket to Work' Bill
01/17/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves says he wants to correct a major flaw in a state program that assists struggling Maine families, and help them return to the work force. Eves says his bill is aimed at those enrolled in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program who have trouble finding and keeping jobs due to learning disabilities or other obstacles. Eves says his bill would match those workers with assistance programs, and move them more quickly back to work. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Maine House Speaker Unveils 'Ticket to Work' Bill
Originally Aired: 1/17/2013 5:30 PM

There are 10,000 Maine families enrolled in the state Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, more commonly known as TANF. The cash assistance is capped at 60 months. But what if there are extenuating circumstances that have kept a TANF recipient from going back to work?

"Are there learning disbailities that get in the way?" asked House Speaker Mark Eves. "What are the barriers that have historically got in the way for individuals to get a good-paying job?"

Those are questions that House Speaker Mark Eves says his bill will answer. The so-called "Ticket to Work" is designed to lower the costs of the TANF program by getting people into the work force sooner. TANF recipients would be interviewed by state Department of Health and Human Services workers, who would determine whether disabilities or other impediments are blocking their re-entry to the work force. If such obstacles are found, those individuals would be connected to state programs that would help them re-enter the job market.

"Identifying the needs on the front end to make sure that we are appropriately providing what is needed so that people can transition off public assistance on the front end, not the back end," Eves said, "So they do have a ticket to work, so that they have a pathway out of poverty towards prosperity and into the middle class."

Another part of Eves bill would review whether TANF recipients with disabilities should be placed in the federally funded Supplemental Security Income program. Eves ideas are all on target with the Republican goals of making the state's welfare system is more affordable and efficient. The fact that such measures don't already exist surprise some advocates for the poor,

"You would think that it would be happening," says Gagne-Holmes, executive director for Maine Equal Justice Partners. Gagne-Holmes says a study of TANF three years ago provided new insight into some of the problems with the program.

"People who turn to TANF and are on TANF for longer than the medium time frame, which is about 18 to 24 months, are people who have disabilities, either the adult has a disability, the spouse or the child has a disability and these disabilities are often not being addressed within the program because the program is a cookie cutter program meant to serve everybody in the same exact way, and many of these families have different needs," Gagne-Holmes says.

Republicans at the State House say they're interested in looking at anything that reduces TANF costs. But House Republican Leader Ken Fredette says he doesn't want Eves bill to be used aws an exemption for welfare recipients to receive benefits longer than 60 months.

"We don't want to simply extend a government program or an exemption within a government program so that people can simply stay dependent longer," Fredette says. "I don't think anybody is in favor of that, at least on the Republican side. But we are interested in looking at if people can truly transition and can become part of the work force, That's something that we can support."

Eves says his bill will give TANF recipients the tools they need to move out of poverty and will not shift costs to the communities in which they live. 


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