To view Leef's welfare-reform vision, look to Maine
Referencing both historical precedents and current national events, Dr. Jeffrey Leef, a radiologist at the University of Chicago and Republican candidate for Illinois’ 7th Congressional District, recently spoke out on his vision for welfare reform.
Specifically, Leef wants to see a major overhaul in the way public assistance works in Illinois. Citing a demonstrably successful program initiated several years ago in Maine and still thriving today, the candidate took compared that state’s actions to existing social and economic theory, suggesting that the needy can strive to improve their plight beyond just picking up a check and food stamps on a regular basis.
In his statement, Leef reminded constituents of previous proposals made decades earlier by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and others — for the past 60 years, he noted — positing whether the Prairie State would do well to emulate its neighbor to the northeast.
Maine’s welfare reforms, first implemented in 2014, appear to be working. At that time, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration mandated that healthy adults with no children who were on public assistance would be required either to work, train to improve their employment prospects or volunteer at least part-time to remain eligible for food stamps. If individuals refused to comply, their benefits would be cut off after three months.
Not all constituents were overjoyed at the prospect of sweeping changes because LePage also carried a torch for restricting purchases — perceived as micro-management by many — to “healthy” choices in an effort to curb obesity, diabetes and other health conditions aggravated by poor dietary choices.
Although the program proved somewhat controversial, the number of food-stamp beneficiaries in Maine subsequently dropped to 4,500 by the beginning of 2015, and today only 1,500 able-bodied adults remain SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) beneficiaries.
The positive long-term effects of such welfare-reform tactics are just beginning to become evident. The State of Maine undertook a study to document and to validate the advantages of its reconstructed welfare regulations, with its Department of Health and Human Services working in conjunction with the State Department of Labor. Data gleaned from the study revealed that the adult subjects experienced an average of 114 percent rise in their income over the course of one year.
The question is whether Maine’s example, perceived as radical by some, could possibly work for Illinois. Gov. LePage fought the Obama administration for some of his reforms, attempting to ban “Mars bars and Mountain Dew,” as one news network put it, but could not succeed on that front.
“It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” LePage said of his attempts at reform, alleging that the federal government was effectively hypocritical in its oversight and scolding national leaders for “…the tragedy of billions in wasted taxpayer dollars that buy candy and soda through a program that was originally designed to reduce hunger.”
Leef expressed both hope and skepticism as he posited how Illinois could follow suit.
“While I feel that Governor Rauner is brave enough to initiate this type of welfare reform, I am equally confident that our usual suspects in the Illinois Democratic Machine will … squash all attempts to implement these critically important reforms,” Leef said. “Keep in mind that while Governor LePage's welfare reforms are proving to be the most effective way to improve the daily life of the poor … and should be a template for change in our state, it will once again be Illinois' career politicians, as well as the liberal media, that will prevent this from taking place."