With low labor force participation, Maine needs work requirements for those receiving welfare

By Sen. Eric Brakey

As Ronald Reagan once quipped, the most effective welfare program is a job. Unfortunately, the Gipper’s wisdom is lost on the current Governor of Maine.

This is Senator Eric Brakey of Androscoggin County. It’s my pleasure to join you this week for the Republican Radio Address.

Over the past four years, Gov. Janet Mills has transformed our social safety net into a welfare hammock. Mills broadly expanded eligibility for programs like Medicaid, which once focused on helping our most vulnerable including seniors and disabled Mainers, to childless, able-bodied adults. She then went one step further by eliminating LePage era work requirements that compelled able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) to work, volunteer or participate in job training to remain eligible for benefits after a three-month grace period.

Those requirements are now gone.

Eric Brakey – Androscoggin

When first implemented in the food stamp program by Governor Paul LePage in 2015, work requirements for work-capable, childless adults resulted in a doubling of average incomes in a single year for those affected by the change. The results spoke loud and clear: Some people need a little bit of a push to move from the sofa to the workforce and down the road to independent living. With current workforce participation at all-time lows, it is more important now than ever that we restore work requirements to welfare benefits.

Since the advent of the Mills Administration, Maine’s welfare rolls have exploded and our labor participation rate has plunged to the lowest levels in recorded history. For childless adults aged 19-29, Medicaid enrollment since 2019 has increased by almost 800%. Meanwhile, 40,000 open jobs remain unfilled and 42% of working age Mainers are sitting on the sidelines collecting welfare checks instead of paychecks.

The consequences of these overly generous welfare policies can be felt throughout our economy. Short-staffed businesses are struggling to remain open, while working Mainers are performing double duties to fill in the gaps. As their reward for hard work, those with jobs pay among the highest tax rates in America, funding welfare checks for those who choose not to work.

A recent report by Casey Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, found that Maine households taking advantage of the full slate of available welfare and unemployment programs can receive annual benefits worth $71,757 — an amount higher than the average income of a working Maine family.

While this trend is especially pronounced in Maine, it is not totally unique to our state. A recent economic analysis in the Wall Street Journal found that, when measuring household income and accounting for both taxes and welfare payments, the bottom 60% of households in America are all relatively breaking even with each other regardless of employment status.

As welfare benefits outpace employment compensation, there are obvious questions that must be asked. What incentives do working-age people have to work a job? Why would you break your back just to break even with those who aren’t even breaking a sweat? And is there anyone left wondering why Maine’s workforce participation rate has fallen so dramatically in recent years?

To put work-capable Mainers back on the road to independence and self-sufficiency, we must reimagine and reform our welfare and unemployment insurance systems. That’s why Maine Senate Republicans unveiled our “Getting Mainers Back to Work” initiative this week, which aims to do both.

By restoring work requirements, we can transform the welfare hammock into a trampoline and help work-capable adults bounce back and onto their own two feet.

By prohibiting the practice of “ghosting” job interviews, we can ensure unemployment recipients are genuinely seeking work and not simply going through the motions to continue receiving a government check.

By establishing residency requirements on welfare, we can ensure Maine is a destination for job seekers, not for welfare seekers.

Once again, to quote the Gipper, “We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many people are added.” With 40,000 open job postings, it’s time to put Maine back to work.

Again, this is Senator Eric Brakey of Androscoggin County and I hope you have a great weekend.

Sen. Eric Brakey represents the communities of District 20. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee and the State and Local Government Committee.


  1. If the Democrats in Maine stopped paying people to stay out of work due to this fake plandemic on my tax dollars along with the money being paid to the state by big pharma this would not be an issue. And if the Republicans had the courage to go fight this and not side with the libs it would not be an issue. All of you politicians were not voted into office you were places there by criminal enterprises.


  2. Mainecare is more complicated than welfare. It can be an investment in healthcare that supports the healthcare sysem, addresses mental health issues before they be ome public safety and incarceration issues, prevents overdose, and overcome traumatic stress or medical issues that interfere with obtaining employment. It is important to view healthcare in system terms and return on investment, in the context of data to evaluate these. I trust you already know this. Furthermore, was Gov Mills responding to a majority ov voters on the issue. I support volunteer work, job training, and a fair wage; but see healthcare as a separate issue. Thanks for your work.


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