Dear Editor - From Ben Martin, Candidate for State Representative, District 24
Portland Welfare Fraud
Case Exposes Systemic Issues
Earlier this week the
Maine people learned of a 52-page affidavit filed by the FBI in April 2016
detailing hundreds of thousands of dollars in apparent fraud and abuse of the
SNAP (food stamps) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs at a single
market just down the road in Portland.
Before discussing the
topic of welfare reform in light of this recent incident, we should first take
care not to make generalizations about people, or paint with too broad a brush.
There are no 3-ring
binders of offenders’ faces in my office. I am not
interested in that brand of politics.
In 2015, the Maine
Department of Health and Human Services uncovered 105 instances of welfare
fraud across the state, costing the Maine taxpayer more than $1.2 million.
While the recent case in Portland is one of the more egregious in recent
memory, it is clear if we look at the broader statistics from across Maine that
this problem is not isolated to any one group of people, or any one of Maine’s
The case does however
expose some harsh truths about our entitlement systems, and about state
spending in general. In examining the facts of the case, as detailed in the
affidavit, we catch a glimpse of some of the challenges that will face Maine’s
next State Legislature and the people we send to Augusta to represent us.
If you ask Maine people
if they think these programs should exist, most of them will give you an
emphatic, “Yes. We should help those in need.” However, most would agree that
the Portland case is emblematic of a more systemic issue with the integrity of
our tax-funded welfare programs. Waste, fraud, and abuse within these programs
hurts those most in need of help. We need to ensure their integrity so that
funding is available when and where it is truly needed.
There is some good news
on this front. We did make significant progress in reforming the Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program just this year when the 127th
Maine Legislature passed LD 1097 in largely bipartisan fashion. An Act To
Improve the Integrity of Maine's Welfare Programs, which has since become
law, prohibits the spending of taxpayer-funded TANF benefits to purchase certain
products, including alcohol, tobacco, gambling and lotto, firearms, tattoos,
vacations and bail. It also places a limit on cash withdrawals, and provides
funding for additional state fraud investigators.
Like most Maine people I
was glad to see such a measure enacted. I was however dismayed that our own
Representative Mark Bryant would join a minority of legislators in opposition
to this commonsense, bipartisan legislation intended to strengthen the
integrity of our welfare programs, protect our most vulnerable, and do right by
The people of Windham deserve a better
government, one that will strive to spend our money as wisely as each of us
would spend it ourselves. I encourage you to support candidates this November 8th
whom you trust to help improve these critically important functions of our state