Janet Mills’ cars for welfare recipients push continues as budget cuts in other areas are ordered

Governor Janet Mills signs a bill as Speaker Sara Gideon looks on. Mills’ push to enact a program to buy cars for welfare recipients in Maine is modeled on a bill put forward by Gideon in 2017.

AUGUSTA – Maine might be in dire financial straits, but that isn’t stopping Gov. Janet Mills from pushing forward with controversial legislation to enact a state program that would purchase cars for recipients of welfare benefits in Maine. The program was originally proposed by Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who now is seeking a seat in the United States Senate.

The program, which has come under withering criticism from the non-profit Maine People Before Politics not only for cost but for a lack of rules and oversight, will have a public hearing today. Initially, the Mills Administration pushed to enact the program without a public hearing, with the hearing itself only being scheduled after MPBP managed to get hundreds of people to sign a petition demanding a hearing be scheduled.

The push forward comes less than a week after Governor Janet Mills instructed state agencies to identify potential cuts of 10% in current spending to prepare for a state budget shortfall of more than $500 million in the current budget year. Those shortfalls come after Mills pushed to increase the state budget by about $800 million in her first year in office, spending the entire budget surplus left by Gov. Paul LePage.

In advance of the hearing, Governor Janet Mills’ staff has already put out a Request for Proposals,

As previously reported by Maine Examiner, the cost to the person receiving the car is only about $2,700, with a $300 initial down payment required, followed by $100 per month payments for 24 months.

Among other details, Maine People Before Politics provides in their latest communications about the program from the Mills Administration RFP are the following:

– The program can provide brand-new OR used vehicles that must get at least 25mpg. These cars do not have to be bought from Maine dealerships.

– The program must transfer the titles to participants within 90 days of the participant getting the vehicle.

– If the person sells the car without DHHS’s authorization during the 2-year program, the person will not be charged with car theft–only welfare fraud.

– There’s no limit on the value or the types of cars that can be given to participants.

– Used cars must be model year 2015 or newer and have no more than 70,000 miles.

– Cars must be covered by a two-year maintenance warranty that will assure the car can pass state inspection. The warranty may only exclude tire and wiper wear and damage from neglect, vandalism or accidents.

– The purchase price of the cars and the 2-year maintenance warranty are paid for by the $6 million welfare program, not the participant.

– The participant pays DHHS about $100 a month for 24 months plus a $300 down payment. These payments are set aside to pay for that person’s taxes, inspection and insurance.

– After 2 years and having paid about $2,700 into that set-aside fund, the monthly payments end. Participants “graduate” from the program and can do whatever they want with the car. Nothing in the law or rules prevents them from selling it.

– Participants have to promise to use the car “primarily” to get to work, not to let others drive the vehicle, and not to use it for illegal activities.

Maine People Before Politics says the virtual public hearing will be held from 1pm to 4pm today, August 10 and they are encouraging Mainers to attend and make their voices heard. Those who cannot attend the virtual public hearing may send in public comment at this link.

The program, dubbed “Working cars for Working Families” is a near exact replica of a bill Speaker Sara Gideon put forward in 2017, but Governor Paul LePage insisted on a legal sunset to the program and refused to fund it.

Under Gideon’s proposal, L.D. 1475 introduced in April of 2017, the program would have been funded with $10 million instead of the current $6 million. Under Gideon’s original proposal, some recipients would not have been required to make payments. Gideon’s proposal would have functioned along the same basic lines, but would have also provided additional funding for the cost of registration, insurance and repairs.

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