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Enough is Enough: Hold officials accountable for TANF cost shift

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

It should have been a “no brainer.” Unfortunately, the vote that was cast by Lewiston’s highly educated and personable County Commissioner, Elaine Makas, went against the will of Lewiston’s City Council and City Administrator Ed Barrett.

They had requested that LA 911 serve as the county’s regional communication center.

Commissioner Makas went against the will of Lewiston officials (and probably its residents) by voting to spend $350,000 in capital upgrades to continue to use the county dispatch center. In a recent Lewiston City Councilor meeting, Councilor Don D’Auteuil pointed out that the implementation of LA 911 would be less costly to Lewiston taxpayers than the other options.

Makas acknowleged this was true, but felt other options were more “fair” to the towns.

Annually, Lewiston-Auburn contributes $1.04 million to fund LA 9-11. This system is in place and works well for L-A. Why should it be changed? Oh! That’s right—“it’s fair.”

Thank you, Commissioner Makas, for representing your constituents.

Lewiston and Auburn still have the opportunity to have their will done. At some point the nine-member Androscoggin County Budget Committee is due to meet to reconsider the commission’s decision. The Budget Committee consists of nine members, six of whom represent the interests of Lewiston and Auburn.“No brainer?” You would think so. But, as we have already seen, strange things happen.

Regardless of the outcome, “Let us remember in November!”

Are you angry? Have I got your attention? Well, now it’s time (as we referred to it when I was on the police department) to tune you up.

The barbarians are at the gate! What barbarians? Why, the ones coming off TANF and tripping over one another to enroll at our General Assistance Office. If you have business with the city, other than trying to get your name on the “gimme crowd” rolls, I would suggest you use the Park Street entrance to City Hall.

Thus far, nine multi-children families have shown up at our doorstep in anticipation of their notification that they are no longer eligible for TANF. They have reached their 60-month (five years) limit.

During the past five years, the non-English-speaking TANF recipients were paid to learn English. All—both immigrants and Americans—were paid to participate in job-training programs. Now, after five years, these immigrants speak little or no English, and none (immigrant or homegrown) have sufficient work skills.

This reinforces Governor Paul LePage’s comments about the middle-management state employees who are responsible for overseeing that these programs were carried out as specified. Who will be disciplined? It’s about time to remind those responsible for the program’s implementation that they receive a paycheck, not a welfare check.

What started off looking like true welfare reform has turned into no more than a cost shift. It’s a cost shift because instead of forcing TANF clients to get a job or apply for welfare in another state, they have been thrown yet another lifeline and allowed to seek handouts at their local welfare office.

If you live in Falmouth, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth or Yarmouth—where you’re considered poor if your yacht is under 50 feet and codes and ordinances keep the riff raff out—this is true welfare reform. Live in Lewiston, Auburn or Biddeford, and you will see an increase in lay-abouts, criminals, crime and blight.

This could have been avoided by a bill introduced in the Legislature by Rep. Thomas Saviello and Rep. Alan Casavant, the current mayor of Biddeford. LD 1862 would have prevented TANF recipients from going to their local welfare offices for assistance. Another “no brainer?” Apparently not, if you’re one of Lewiston’s state legislators.

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, they stood silently on the sidelines. Now, what was a zero-percent Lewiston property tax increase could suddenly and quickly increase to unknown heights.

I know several of our local representatives, and they are very personable and nice. However, “nice” in politics just doesn’t cut it.

Senator Margaret Craven and Representatives Peggy Rotundo, Michel Lajoie, Richard Wagner, Michael Carey and Bruce Bickford apparently fear the wrath of public advocacy groups, lobbyists, party leaders and the “gimme” groups more than they fear the wrath of the voters.

Their policies and the policies of their predecessors continue to make the development of our city a Herculean task. These policies have created a hostile climate that now falls on me and me alone to clean up.

But they will be held accountable for every penny spent on those coming off TANF. Every month, I will inform you of what we paid out that month and further provide you with a year-to-date total.

It is time for the voters to remember in November. A great rallying cry would be “1862!”


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