“All Sins Cast Long Shadows”: If You Can Keep Your Head When Those Around You Are Losing Theirs, You Don’t Understand The Problem

In order for a problem description to be complete, all factors relating to your decisions must be considered. Any solution to an incomplete problem is by definition, any incomplete solution. We have a serious problem in the decisions being made at the Department of Health and Human Services. This department is running amok, uncontrolled, unreceptive, unaccountable and reigns with the attitude that “we can do whatever we want, whenever we want and however we want”.

It comes as no surprise that there are needs of many Mainers that require our direct attention. When errors in problem identification occur, it only leads to incorrect solutions. The problems that are before us and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are those needs of low income families with children, seniors and disabled Mainers. This clearly defines the problem, and requires considerate deliberations and dedication to resolve them.

Instead of addressing all of the problems, Gov LePage and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew have continued a shell game of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Their actions raise serious concerns for the health and welfare of Maine citizens. In a recent audit of the Maine DHHS by the state office that ensures government funds are used according to law, it was determined that DHHS has misspent $13.4 million in federal welfare money earmarked for low income families with children. The audit report also indicated that DHHS was aware of the fact that its use of the $13 million was questionable, but went ahead with the redistribution and spending of that dedicated money despite having this knowledge beforehand.

These funds originated from a single federal grant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and accounts for $78.1 million to Maine each year to pay cash assistance, job training and placement, and child care for low-income Maine families with children. Redistribution and spending of this money occurred over a two year period. Federal law does allow for the state to transfer up to 10% of the $78.1 million each year to a smaller more flexible federal grant known as the Social Services Block Grant that states may use for a range of other social services. This is not what happened in this particular case. In 2015, DHS transferred $7.8 million to services for elderly and disabled residents. In the following year, DHHS transferred another $5.6 million TANF funds to the Social Security Block Grant for the same services. Instead of addressing the big picture and the needs of the elderly and disabled with appropriate funding, Gov LePage and the Commissioner enacted their own policies of redistribution, pitting one group of needy Mainers against another group of needy Mainers. In the end, this amounts to a lose-lose situation for those who are most vulnerable in our everyday communities.

The insulting kicker in this whole fiasco is that the DHHS response was that the fund transfers “had no net effect” because the department reversed them within the time frame allowed by the federal government. This is certainly misleading as the auditor clearly noted that there is no allowable time period where DHHS is permitted by the federal government to spend grant funds on unallowable costs. The department also had the audacity to suggest that the timing of the audit report was somehow politically motivated since it occurred outside “its normal schedule for publishing audits”. In other words, it appears that DHHS’s position is that “we knew we were cooking the books and we would have gotten away with it if the auditors had just stuck to their normal schedules”. These redistributions by DHHS are clear evidence of improper and unacceptable practices of financial administration. The auditor’s report concluded that “the decision to spend federal funds on costs un-allowed by federal regulations with the intent of returning the funds to the federal government if and when the un-allowed costs are questioned, does not represent a valid system of internal controls of federal awards.

So, back to the big picture, and that picture is a landscape of the unmet needs of Maine’s low income families with children, seniors and the disabled. Many of these unmet needs would be more easily resolvable if Maine had accepted and enacted Medicaid Expansion.

There is enough misfortune today for the citizens of Maine. It makes no sense whatsoever for our state government to continue to create new ones. This slight of hands solution to problems is entrenched in the LePage administration and is completely disengaged from how their decisions are affecting people’s lives. It seems that this administration has a unique and uncanny ability to deceive themselves, and in the process, is counting on the people to not notice or hold them accountable.

What this administration sees as a badge of honor may prove in retrospect to be a brand of dishonor, a lack of integrity and an uncaring attitude for the needs of the people of Maine. It’s time to clean house from the top down in the Department of Health and Human Services.

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