Democratic leaders in Augusta are saying Maine's welfare system is "broken" and needs reform.

The new rhetoric is prompting Republicans to accuse Democrats of engaging in election-year politics on an issue that is popular with voters and central to the Republican Party's brand.

But Democrats say Republicans don't want true reform but instead focus on pushing people off welfare programs and stigmatizing the poor.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe from Skowhegan said Democrats want to make the welfare system more effective and cost-efficient.

A Legislative panel on Thursday will take up several welfare bills, including one sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby, a Democrat from Lewiston. Libby's bill would set up EBT cards so people can't buy banned items, like alcohol, at the point of sale.