PORTLAND, MAINE >> Gov. Paul LePage is getting behind a Maine town's decision to consider new rules that would tie some welfare benefits to random drug testing.
Officials in Madawaska are vetting new rules that would apply to the state's General Assistance program, which is run by the state and provides money for things like food and housing. The rules, which would be the first of their kind in the state, will come up at the town's Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday.
LePage, a Republican, has been a vocal supporter of welfare reform as governor, including advocating for drug-screening assessments for certain recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program dollars. He called Madawaska's proposal "fiscally responsible" and a chance to promote healthy living.
"Ensuring our welfare programs are helping those who are truly needy and willing to work toward economic stability is important," LePage said.
Madawaska has a workfare program that treats General Assistance recipients like town employees, who are subject to drug screening, town manager Ryan Pelletier said. The rule change would extend that standard to all recipients, he said.
Madawaska gave assistance to 45 people last year, with the General Assistance budget totaling about $16,000. Pelletier said just two of those people were part of the workfare program. Others were exempt either because they were disabled or were in the process of appealing to prove they were disabled, he said.
"Just because you are not able bodied, then you get a free pass," Pelletier said, adding that under the new proposal "you get put in a pool like anyone else, and if you're drawn to be tested you're drawn to be tested."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has said programs to drug test welfare recipients raise constitutional issues. Jamesa Drake, an attorney with the ACLU, said the group is monitoring to see what Madawaska does.
"We think it's troubling that the town would choose to test poor people when they are trying to provide for themselves and their families," Drake said.
Pelletier will return with a recommendation in August. A vote could follow, possibly in the form of a public referendum, a town meeting vote, or an action of the Board of Selectmen.
Madawaska is located at the far northern tip of Maine, more than 300 miles from Portland, across the St. John River from Madawaska County in New Brunswick, Canada.