January 27, 2011

Welfare program advocates rally around facts, statistics

Morning Sentinel Staff and wire reports

AUGUST -- Advocates for welfare programs say legislative debate about proposed cuts should be based on facts, not anecdotes suggesting widespread cheating and long-term reliance on assistance.

click image to enlarge

HELPING HAND: Erica Dupont picks up her daughter Alexis Hogy at the Webster Early Care and Education Center on Wednesday in Augusta. Dupont reluctantly applied for welfare for the sake of her daughter, because the only other option was to live in a car.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Researchers, advocates and recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families released a report Wednesday based on surveys and focus groups showing that the median length of time people are in the program is one year.

It also shows that the biggest reasons families apply for welfare are job instability, illness, disabilities and family problems, including abuse.

Some of the bills before lawmakers propose time limits on eligibility, stricter residency requirements and drug testing for recipients.

The bills aim to fix perceived problems "formed by a set of stereotypes and myth," said Chris Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners.

Sarah Standiford of the Maine Women's Lobby said appropriate solutions can be found only when they're based on facts.

Advocates said monthly payments -- which amount to $485 a month for a family of three -- haven't increased since 2001. They said the $28 million in state money that's spent on welfare is less than 1 percent of the general fund.

Erica Dupont, 30, of Augusta, a single mother who was one of several welfare recipients who attended a news conference at the State House on Wednesday, said she reluctantly applied for welfare for the sake of her daughter, because the only other option was to live in a car.

Dupont, who suffers from lupus, said she will soon graduate from the University of Maine at Augusta, where she is a full-time student. She expects to get full-time job working with at-risk adolescents.

She said she gets angry when people assume she's lazy because she is on welfare.

"Nobody knows how much I work," she said. "It's time to break that stereotype."

LePage's spokesman Dan Demeritt said the report adds valuable information for lawmakers as they debate the issue.

State House Bureau Writer Tom Bell contributed to this report.

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