A proposal by the mayor of Lewiston to create an online database of Maine welfare recipients sparked significant debate late last week, but will not move forward as no lawmaker will was willing to sponsor the legislation.
Two-term mayor Robert Macdonald, a Republican and former police detective, pitched the idea last week in his regular column in the Twin City Times, a weekly newspaper and website. He said an online registry would help deter fraud and abuse and make some people think twice before applying for benefits.
The mayor said he asked Senator Eric Brakey, a Republican from Auburn, and Nate Libby, a Democrat from Lewiston, to sponsor the legislation, but both refused.
Representatives from the Republican House and Senate caucuses said Monday that no lawmakers tabled a bill by Friday’s deadline.
The only other way for legislation to get a hearing in the next legislative session would be for Governor Paul LePage to bring in a bill. Its communications director, Peter Steele, said LePage had no plans to do so. Steele did not ask whether the governor, a vocal critic of welfare programs and spending, supported the idea, but said LePage had neither been consulted nor asked by Macdonald to sponsor the legislation.
During his tenure as mayor of Maine’s second largest city, Macdonald often called for changes and cuts to public aid programs. However, his idea of creating an online registry that would list the names and addresses of recipients drew criticism from many.
Macdonald did not return a call Monday for comment, but appeared to acknowledge last week that his idea was not likely to see the light of day. He said he brought it up primarily to strike up a conversation, as he remains frustrated that Lewiston continues to shoulder such a heavy welfare burden.
According to data provided by the state last week, Lewiston has much higher rates of people receiving state aid than the state as a whole.
The number of Lewiston residents in the federal food stamp program last month was 11,059, or 305 per 1,000 residents. That’s twice the state’s rate of 151 people per 1,000, according to figures from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Likewise, there were 13.6 cases of temporary assistance for needy families per 1,000 population in Lewiston (495 cases in total), more than three times the state’s rate of 4.3 cases per 1,000. residents.
“Our liberal and progressive lawmakers and their social service allies have made (welfare recipients) a victimized and protected class,” Macdonald wrote in his column last week. “It’s not your business how much of your money they get and spend. Who are you to question him? Shut up and pay!
He said his goal was not necessarily to shame people on welfare, but to reduce fraud and abuse.
Critics called out Macdonald for trying to “name and shame” welfare recipients, while others questioned whether a registry would even be legal.
But the mayor, who is running for re-election in November, has capitalized on the controversy. Several national media reported on his proposal last week, including the Washington Post.
Macdonald also made an appearance this weekend on “Fox and Friends Weekend,” a national television show, in which he lamented the lack of support for his idea.
“What really hurts is that Lewiston lawmakers are stabbing me in the back,” he said on the show. “Every time I submit (proposals) none of them support them and yet I am overwhelmingly elected by the people over there and that’s why they elected me.”