AUGUSTA – Proposals to eliminate funding for two programs for at-risk children drew discussion, but no decisions, Thursday by a panel that will recommend at least $25 million in cuts from the state budget.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told members of the Streamline & Prioritize Core Government Services Task Force that her department is trying to move Maine closer to national averages for spending in some areas.

One example is Head Start. Maine is one of only 11 states that contribute to the federal program for low-income preschool children. “It is from that perspective that we propose the elimination of all state general fund support,” she said.

The $2.4 million in state funding would end in the fiscal year starting July 1, but the program would continue to receive $1.3 million in tobacco settlement money.

The 11 Head Start umbrella organizations in Maine also receive about $28 million in federal funds each year. But those funds could be reduced as part of the discretionary spending cuts called for under the Republican deal with President Obama in August to raise the federal debt ceiling.

The cut in state funds would mean a loss of $437,819 for the People’s Regional Opportunity Program in Portland and a $291,629 cut from the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program in Waterville. They are two of the 11 organizations that receive Head Start funds.

The proposal drew fire from the Maine Children’s Alliance, whose vice president, Ned McCann, called it “extreme.”

“That’s 10 percent of their target (of $25 million),” he said. “That seems kind of extreme that children in poverty would absorb 10 percent of the budget cuts.”

Panel members asked for more information about the program and the elimination of state general funds, including data on the program’s effectiveness, the cost per child, and where agencies that rely on the money could look for additional funds.

The proposed cut was tabled, as was a proposal to eliminate funding for a program that provides intensive case management for teenagers who are moving from residential treatment or correctional facilities back into the community.

That cut would save $4 million in the next fiscal year.

The panel did endorse a 5 percent rate reduction in reimbursement payments to hospitals for outpatient services. That would save about $3 million. Some members of the panel asked whether the cut would increase rates for people with private insurance.

“It is certainly true it is made up through increasing payments by commercial payers,” Mayhew said.

The panel also delayed action on two proposed fee increases.

The panel debated proposals to reduce proposed cuts to higher education, and to ask K-12 education to bear more of the reductions. As it is now, the Maine Community College System, the University of Maine System and Maine Maritime Academy are being asked to cut a combined $6.8 million.

The topic will come up again Oct. 28 when the group meets to continue discussions. By law, the group must complete its work in December and prepare a report for lawmakers to consider when they return in January.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@mainetoday.com