Friday, October 21, 2016

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 minority communities. 

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 Maine taxpayers.
  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 government.


  1. Dear Ben. I wish you and all right wingers would give this sad one-trick pony a rest. The tiny amount of actual fraud in our welfare system pales in comparison to the millions in corporate welfare that you and those on the right (and many on the left) are complicit with. Put on your big boy pants and campaign on issues that actual matter to your electorate. Best, Jonathan Priest, Windham

  2. Hi Jonathan, I appreciate your feedback.

    I want to point out that I am not a career politician, as my 5-term incumbent opponent is. This is my first race, and I have no record of supporting corporate welfare.

    I do have real concerns about the integrity of these entitlement programs. I do disagree that $1.2MM is a tiny amount of fraud.

    The price of #2 heating oil is currently $2 per gal. If we eliminated and reallocated the welfare fraud uncovered just in 2015, we could buy 600,000 gallons of heating oil for struggling Maine people, heating over 1100 homes for an entire year.

    Welfare fraud has real consequences, to the tax payer, and to those who need help the most. I think we should be careful not to diminish its effect on the Maine people.