After watch dog inquiry, Gov. Janet Mills backtracks on “welfare for cars” program – now wants cash paid out

Gov. Mills poses for a picture with her COVID vaccination card in a “Cover ME” mask in January, 2021.

AUGUSTA – After a watch dog group filed a legal demand for the documents showing her administration’s rule making and legal process to launch her controversial welfare for cars program, Governor Mills is now proposing a repeal of the program.

Instead of launching program, which would have the state essentially buy new or nearly new cars from select dealers for individuals approved in the program, Governor Mills now wants the state to simply provide a new version program as a cash benefit.

Mills had pushed forward with the program after it had been slipped into the state budget under Gov. Paul LePage. LePage had previously refused to fund the program and negotiated a sunset be written into law. That sunset would have allowed the program to expire without taxpayer dollars ever being sunk into the program had Mills not breathed new life into the program.

The group Maine People Before Politics says they filed a request through Maine’s Freedom of Access Act with the Maine Attorney General for documents related to the rule making process and creation of the process, saying they were, “looking to find out how this program was planned and where the rule was, since the contract had been awarded and was only waiting for the final rule to go into effect.”

“DHHS rolled out a massive, bureaucratic and poorly planned program to use $6 million in taxpayer dollars to provide cars and handover the titles to people on welfare who had only paid about $600 into the program. DHHS had even already awarded the contract for the program’s management,” said MPBP in a statement describing their actions.

Shortly after, MPBP says, Governor Mills stopped trying to fast-track the program and instead moved to repeal it in favor of a new program.

Now, says MPBP, Gov. Mills is pushing forward with a proposal to replace the controversial program with a $6,600 cash benefit to program recipients.

The funds would ostensibly be paid out to cover travel expenses for an 18-month period, but MPBP says Gov. Mills would make the payment in advance to recipients, sending checks for $6,600 out to program recipients up front in one lump sum. Although the program is, if you believe Gov. Mills’ claim, intended to cover transportation costs for families, Mills’ proposed program contains no rules or language requiring the cash be spent on transportation expenses, or even child care, which is also covered under the program.

“Governor Mills is creating a new, cash welfare benefit totaling up to $6,600 over 18 months,” said MPBP’s statement.

“Maine’s safety net must be preserved for the most vulnerable. Thousands of people have lost their jobs in this pandemic and now need a hand up. The welfare rolls are expanding, as one would expect given what is happening in the economy. Now is not the time to create new welfare benefits.”

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