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Maine Gov Responds to Controversial '47 Percent' Remark
10/24/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Gov. Paul LePage today responded to criticism of remarks he made at an event last week, in which he said nearly half of able-bodied Mainers don't work. LePage was asked about those comments following a news conference on domestic violence in Augusta. As Mal Leary reports, the governor explained that the number actually referred to how many Mainers receive welfare benefits.

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LePage Explains '47 Percent' Remark Listen

Gov. Paul LePage

Gov. LePage (left) made his original comments to a private group of conservative women in Falmouth. The event was not public, but the remarks were recorded and acquired by the Bangor Daily News.

LePage told the group that 47 percent of able-bodied Mainers don't work. But according to state Department of Labor statistics, 65 percent of all Mainers do work.

LePage was asked by a reporter Thursday to explain where he got the 47 percent figure and he responded by saying that his comments were really meant to describe the number of Mainers who are receiving some sort of welfare from the state.

"Well it's actually 48.4 percent, but we won't - What I am talking about is we are an aging society, we have a very large population not working," LePage said. "We have - we don't allow our kids to learn to work until they are 16, which I think is another crime against society - we are hurting our children. And then we have those that we have taught - because we haven't let them work and learn how to work - they sit at home and they don't work, and they are capable of working. And I find that very sad."

LePage asked his communications director, Adrienne Bennett, to further explain the 48.4 percent figure he cited. "It's the percentages of households in Maine that are receiving some sort of welfare assistance, and that would include TANF, SNAP and Medicaid."

TANF is the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, and Medicaid is the health insurance program for the poor.

Bennett told reporters that governor is clarifying his earlier comment about the number of Mainers working. And she also acknowledges that many Mainers who qualify for benefits are also working.

"We are talking about the bigger issue, which is welfare reform," Bennett said, "and we are trying to implement some policies. We know that we have an expanded welfare program already and a broken system. We want to fix that. We want the flexibility from the federal government to be able to do so."

But Democratic legislative leaders were sharply critical of LePage's original 47 percent comment, and they say his explanation makes no sense.

"It sounds to me like the governor is doubling down on his message rather than apologizing for it, which is what he should be doing," says Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, the House majority leader. He says there are a lot of Maine families struggling to get by on minimum wage jobs, and who qualify for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Berry says they deserve better than to be the subject of misinformed attacks by the governor.

"They take pride in their work and they deserve a governor that will take pride in them," Berry says. "I think it is very clear from this that what Maine needs is a governor who will lift Maine up and who will be a champion of the state, and not put the state and its people down with misinformation."

Berry, who co-chairs the Legislature's Workforce Development Committee, says he hopes the governor will turn his attention and support to a bipartisan effort to improve training and educational opportunities for Maine workers, so they won't have to turn to state assistance to meet the needs of their families.

Photo:  Mal Leary


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