The call was made in response to recent findings, released by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, that recipients of taxpayer-funded public assistance benefits have won $22.4 million in lottery prizes since 2010.
This includes eight jackpots worth at least $500,000 each. For winnings that large, such as Mega Millions jackpot winnings, the winner typically receives an immediate payment followed by a number of annual payments.
The information was sourced from public records requested from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In order to win such a large amount, a Cornell University economist and expert in lottery spending calculated, recipients of public assistance would have had to spend “hundreds of millions of dollars” on lottery tickets. While some critics have pointed out that the benefit recipients may have used their own cash to buy lottery tickets, no analyses could determine whether the individuals receiving assistance used taxpayer money or their own money.
“What people do with taxpayer money is everybody’s business,” state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland told pressherald.com. “State assistance is meant to help Mainers put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, cover medical expenses and keep up with the bills – not to be spent on lottery tickets.”
While it seems that lawmakers may finally put their foot down, this is not a new issue. According to Adrienne Bennett, the spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, this has been a recurring conversation.
“Gov. LePage has been introducing legislation year after year, but it’s a fight every time we go to the Legislature to close these loopholes,” said Bennett.
Welfare reform has been a big issue for LePage’s administration. Since becoming governor, LePage has implemented many reforms in order to ensure the state utilizes their $2.87 billion benefit program with as little waste as possible.
In an effort to fight fraud, for example, the administration started putting photos on electronic benefit cards that low-income families use to obtain cash for food and other basics commodities.
While the administration is seeking to end abuses of welfare, its ultimate goal is to help those who need it the most.
“We need to address this situation in a way that protects taxpayer dollars while ensuring no one who still needs a little help loses it unnecessarily,” said state Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland.