McGuire believes Illinois can learn from Maine's welfare reform
Brandi McGuire, Republican candidate for the state House seat in District 72 (Quad Cities), recently discussed the successful welfare reforms implemented in Maine and the opportunity for Illinois to follow suit.
Beginning in October 2014, Maine Gov. Paul LePage pushed for reforms in the welfare program, particularly in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is commonly known as the food stamp program. The successful implementation of work requirements and other approved activities for Maine's 16,000 able-bodied adults without children produced a significant reduction in food stamp benefits while moving participants into the workforce. Participants who refused to comply with the new requirements only received three months of food stamp benefits.
The reforms in Maine secured a savings of approximately $30 million to $40 million annually. Within three months of the implementation of SNAP reforms, the number of able-bodied childless adults receiving food stamps dropped to 4,500; and by May 2016, the number of recipients had dropped to 1,500 adults.
"Illinois is in need of reform, and Maine is a fantastic model of what Illinois needs to do to rein in spending in a way that is fair to its citizens'" McGuire said. "The Maine Welfare Reforms have the intention of lessening the dependency many people on welfare programs have become accustomed to. Welfare was never meant to be a substitute for a job. It was meant to help people experiencing low times and needed help for a period of time, not indefinitely."
In addition to the savings to taxpayers, the recipients benefited by locating work, working more hours or finding higher paying jobs. The 7,000 recipients tracked by the state averaged a 114 percent increase in pay, raising many participants above the federal poverty level. The remaining food stamp recipients also saw an increase in income, leading to a 13 percent drop in the average food stamp grant.
After his success with SNAP reforms, LePage has followed up with threats to either implement restrictions on sugary beverages and snacks, such as sodas and candy bars, or halt Maine's administration of SNAP benefits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied his request to limit food stamp food items, in part because it is difficult to define "junk food;" some items thought of as junk foods may also include healthy ingredients.
"Gov. Rauner should most definitely follow Gov. LePage’s lead," McGuire said. "(T)hese reforms are beneficial for the state not only financially, but socially as well. Gov. LePage stood up to (the) Obama administration and called them out for their double-standard of forcing low-calorie, low-sugar lunches in public schools, but then allowing people on SNAP to buy unhealthy high-sugar, high-fat foods to bring home to their families."
While Maine has saved up to $40 million per year on SNAP reforms, Illinois still struggles with an imbalance between revenue and expenditures. Illinois' total spending in 2012 was $67.9 billion, of which 36.7 percent, or $24.9 billion, was allocated to Health and Social Services (H&SS). The federal funding for Illinois SNAP in fiscal year 2012 was more than $3.1 billion.
By following Maine's example, the maximum food stamp benefit of $194 for a single person could be significantly reduced with the implementation of work requirements, as SNAP benefits are reduced as the household income rises. While the overall savings would be a small part of the total food stamp and H&SS budget, both the taxpayers and participants would benefit from the increased employment of food stamp recipients.
"Gov. Rauner is known for standing up and fighting battles other Illinois leaders have been either unwilling or afraid to do," McGuire said. "By following Maine Gov. LePage’s lead, we will be one-step closer to having a welfare system that actually works the way it was intended to. As taxes continue to rise, the wasteful spending of taxpayer money weighs heavy on the minds of many hard-working citizens of Illinois. Gov. Rauner knows it is time to restore some faith taxpayers have and let them know the money that disappears from their paychecks goes to programs that work."