AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Paul LePage plans to introduce legislation to address welfare fraud that he cited in Electronic Benefit Transfer card transactions made at liquor stores, smoke shops and strip clubs.
LePage introduced data last week that indicate there were 3,000 Electronic Benefit Transfer card transactions made at shops in Maine that primarily sell cigarettes and tobacco products between 2011 and November 2013. Another 650 transactions were made at places that primarily sell alcohol.
Critics say that the waste cited by the governor accounts for only a tiny fraction of benefits.
But LePage said Saturday that he'll be introducing legislation in the new session to address the welfare fraud.
"It's imperative that fraud is eliminated from the welfare system because it takes away from those who need it most. Our administration is committed to helping those who are truly in need, but we cannot support those cheating the system," the governor said in his weekly address.
LePage also said he's introducing a bill to repeal a state law that prevents Maine from complying with federal requirements in its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Welfare reform adopted by the Clinton administration in 1996 requires TANF recipients to either work or train for a job but state exemptions allow recipients to get around the requirement, he said.
"This puts us out of line with federal standards, and we now face $13 million in fines from the Obama administration," said LePage, who described his proposal as "common-sense legislation."
Democrats used their message to focus on renewed attempts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Committee hearings on the new expansion bill are expected to begin next week.
A new study commissioned by the LePage administration suggests that the expansion would cost the state $807 million over 10 years, but House Speaker Mark Eves said independent studies suggest the expansion could save the state $690 million over the same period.
"Maine has an opportunity to accept 100 percent federal funding to provide health care for 70,000 Maine people, including nearly 3,000 veterans. We should do it," Eves said.