Are LePage’s welfare reforms unconstitutional, unenforceable and unethical?

Ethan: What is up with you Republicans and welfare? You spend more time trying to make it harder for people to get support in hard times than you do reducing the causes of poverty.

Phil: You support people on welfare spending their money at casinos and strip clubs?

Ethan: If you actually had some evidence that this was happening, I might be more concerned. But all your party has done now is propose bills that are unenforceable, unconstitutional, undermining and unethical.

Phil: Aren’t you just full of alliteration and hyperbole today. Pray tell how the four bills Gov. Paul LePage introduced are anything of the sort. The first stops people from spending welfare out of state…

Ethan: Unconstitutional.

Phil: The second prevents people from spending welfare on booze and casinos…

Ethan: Unenforceable.

Phil: The third requires someone to apply for three jobs…

Ethan: Undermining.

Phil: And the fourth eliminates the exemptions for people to have to continue applying for work, something 22 other states have currently enacted.

Ethan: Unethical.

Phil: Since when have you ever been a man of few words? Care to elaborate?

Ethan: Number one is unconstitutional because the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution says you can’t stop someone from spending money across state lines. Number two is unenforceable because a store clerk will never be able to tell that the cash came from a welfare check vs. a paycheck. Number three is undermining because it simply creates a barrier that does nothing to help people get jobs. And number four is unethical because it means a parent will no longer be able to get an exemption from work requirements even if they are the victim of domestic violence or have to care for a disabled child.

Phil: Whoa, slow down there cowboy. Let’s lasso these one at a time. Do you agree that Maine people taking welfare assistance should be living here?

Ethan: Sure, but that shouldn’t mean they can’t access their benefits if they are visiting someone out of state.

Phil: OK, what if they are being used for months and months in all 50 states? Does that make a difference?

Ethan: I don’t consider it a big problem either way, but, regardless, how do you address the constitutionality question?

Phil: Don’t Maine’s health care laws prohibit me from buying insurance in another state? Why is this any different?

Ethan: You are welcome to go to any state you want to buy any insurance. What you can’t do is then bring that insurance back across the border (just like a million things). But what I am not allowed to do is tell you that you can’t purchase something in another state. Look, if you are simply trying to limit people who have moved to other states, then fine. But that’s already in the law.

Phil: Progress! On to issue number two. (Do I sound like Family Feud?) Maybe we should credit food stores with the money and let eligible citizens debit the account to get their necessities? That could work.

Ethan: Honestly, I don’t think you are going to find many stores willing to become accounting agencies for every person on welfare. Can you imagine if every mom and pop shop in the state had to pull up a database to determine how much Phil Harriman had remaining in his account? And what about landlords? A huge portion of this money goes to pay the rent. Are you going to require every landlord to take ATM cards or set up a database system? Talk about Big Brother.

Phil: All I am looking for is a different, more accountable way to disburse the funds, so people can’t get their cash at an ATM and then use it for anything and everything.

Ethan: I hear you, but 99.8 percent of people on welfare use it correctly. And since cash is still king in our economy, I think you are going to have live with a two-tenths of a percent fraud rate.

Phil: I understand that you want to find a problem for every solution I present, but Republicans are simply trying to tighten the rules to make sure the money is going where it should.

Ethan: If Republicans are serious about fixing these perceived problems, they need to stop portraying people on welfare as criminals. They’re not. Quite the contrary.

Phil: Republicans — like you — want needy citizens to get a helping hand, not a hand out. Where political emotions create polarization is when your side perceives any amendments to welfare as a “war on the poor” as Senate President Justin Alfond declared recently. We Republicans want assurance that those who spend taxpayer’s money use it to move toward self reliance and not on frivolous expenditures like gambling, booze and cigarettes. It amazes me that you disagree.

Ethan: I don’t disagree. But the law already outlaws people from spending money at casinos and strip clubs. My issue is that if Republicans spent half the energy and money on job training and building the infrastructure to create a thriving economy, we’d actually save a lot more money on welfare than any of these provisions will ever produce. Instead, all your party seems to want to do is hire more lawyers, investigators and law enforcement officers to track down fraud that barely exists.

Phil: I understand you don’t think there is fraud, but taxpayers know better. They see the inefficiency and wasted money in their neighborhood, grocery store and among their own family members. These measures are not draconian. Let them work, and let’s see the impact.

Ethan: I’ll tell you what, if Republicans promise to put $2 back into the program for every $1 saved, maybe a deal can be cut on a couple of these bills. You in?

Phil: I’m in favor of money saved from misuse being reinvested into proven ways to lessen the need. Republicans don’t want anyone to go without basic necessities. We see success as the number of people who no longer need welfare, not how many more are added.

Ethan: I just wish you folks would actually propose something that did just that.