Meet the Woman Who Oversaw Maine’s Welfare Reform

Meet the Woman Who Oversaw Maine’s Welfare Reform

Melissa Quinn / May 09, 2016

President Barack Obama with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Pool/Sipa USA/Newscom) COMMENTARY

President Barack Obama with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Pool/Sipa USA/Newscom) COMMENTARY

For Mary Mayhew, reforming the state’s welfare system hasn’t been easy. But the impact those reforms have had on Maine residents makes it all worth it.

Since joining Gov. Paul LePage’s administration in 2011, Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and LePage, a Republican, have implemented changes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Electronic Benefit Transfer card programs. The state has since seen a decrease in the number of people on the welfare rolls.

But for Mayhew, Maine’s welfare reform has not been met without controversy.

The Daily Signal sat down with the commissioner to discuss the changes the state has seen since implementing its work requirement for those in the food stamp program.


Melissa Quinn  May 09, 2016


Melissa Quinn

Melissa Quinn is a senior news reporter for The Daily Signal. Send an email to Melissa.




Republicans in Washington have long been calling for changes to the welfare system, but Maine’s governor decided to take action in his state.


How did this Republican governor and his administration change his state’s welfare programs, and what happened to the people who received food stamp benefits?


In 2014, Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, announced they were going to reinstate work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents.


A work requirement for childless adults was included in the 1996 welfare reform signed by President Clinton, but during the recession, the federal government extended waivers to states as unemployment climbed


Maine was one of those states. But in July 2014, Gov. LePage decided to reinstate the work requirement for 15,000 of these recipients.


12,000 of those childless adults weren’t working, and they received $15 million in benefits per year


As we’ve looked at these programs, they’ve really trapped people in poverty. So front and center to the governor’s reforms has been promoting employment, that a job is not a dirty word. A job can contribute to self esteem, to self worth, to human dignity, and that to really change someone’s life, we need to get them on that pathway to prosperity and out of poverty through a job.


Under Maine’s welfare reform, Mayhew reinstated a 5-year time limit on those participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program


The state also required able-bodied adults without dependents to either work 20 hours per week, volunteer one hour a day or be in a vocational training program to receive food stamp benefits


I think it’s important for everyone to keep in mind, if you are on these programs, it means you are living in poverty. We should absolutely refuse to accept that that is the way of life that should be accepted for these individuals, that we actually believe in their potential.


After implementing work requirements, the number of childless adults on food stamps decreased significantly.


Mayhew’s department saw its caseload drop from 13,322 in December 2014 to 2,768 in March 2015, an 80-percent decline.


And incomes increased 114 percent.


That’s the story, that when you’re on welfare, you’re discouraged from working. You’re only thinking about if I work, if I earn a little more money I’m going to lose my benefit. But when these programs begin to promote employment, you contribute to that pathway and that economic mobility.


Mayhew and LePage faced criticism for pursuing welfare reform from advocates for the poor who argue work requirements are harsh in areas with high unemployment.


But Mayhew said that the benefits for Maine residents have been noticeable.


These individuals not only increased their earnings, they increased their earnings to move above the federal poverty line. That’s the success to these reforms.
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