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Committee Hears Governor's Welfare Cliff Bill

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee Monday took up a bill from Gov. Paul LePage aimed at fixing what he calls a problem in the welfare system that can discourage recipients from accepting a raise or working more hours.

There was no opposition.

The bill seeks to smooth out the so-called "welfare cliff" by ensuring recipients don't immediately lose all of their benefits once they begin to work and meet a certain income threshold.

Gubernatorial aide Holly Lusk spoke for the governor at the hearing before the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee.

"Governor's bill is designed to curb the effects of the welfare cliff whereby welfare recipients have an incentive to decline promotions and pay raises for fear of losing their benefits," she says.

Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine from Westbrook has introduced a bill with similar goals, and the committee expects to merge the bills during their consideration of the issue.

Christine Hastedt with Maine Equal Justice Partners supports goal of the bill, but says it needs some refining.

"So the bottom line is that a mother with two children, 6 and 8 years old, working 25 hours a week at $7.50 an hour currently qualifies for a monthly TANF grant of $271 would qualify for zero under (LD) 1402," she says. "We think that is inconsistent with the goal."