It’s getting harder every day to understand the LePage administration’s priorities when it comes to social services. The governor talks about saving taxpayer dollars by going after what he considers to be undeserved and over-generous benefit programs. At the same time, the state has lost or is in danger of losing tens of millions of federal dollars because of mismanagement and poor decision-making.
Instead of holding highly paid government officials accountable for these mistakes, he continues to vilify the poorest of the poor, as if needy people and a few low-grade abusers of the system are the real problem.
The administration filed a lawsuit this week against cities and towns seeking to compel the communities to disqualify asylum-seeking immigrants from getting General Assistance to help pay for food and shelter, even though state law appears to mandate that the municipalities provide it.
In a separate story, we also learned that the state will probably have to pay back the federal money it has been using to operate the Riverview Psychiatric Center in the months since it was decertified. Federal inspectors found a host of health and safety violations there last year, and the state lost $20 million in federal funding. The state’s largest psychiatric hospital will now have to go through a certification process as if it were a brand-new facility. That could take another year, while the hospital is run on state money alone.
And more federal money is at risk because of the state’s lax oversight of its child care centers. Federal inspectors found a number of unsafe conditions at state-licensed facilities and a failure to conduct legally required criminal background checks on employees. Maine gets about $20 million from the federal government for its child care inspection program, and now the federal Administration for Children and Families will determine if the state has done enough to deserve those funds.
This is not the only time the governor has turned his back on federal money that would benefit Mainers. He brags about his five vetoes on Medicaid expansion, which would have delivered more than $300 million a year in federally funded health insurance for Mainers who are on the verge of poverty. That ongoing federal support dwarfs the $180 million one-time payment he engineered for the state’s hospitals, and even when you count the $300 million in federal funds that the payment leveraged, Maine’s hospitals will still be worse off as a result of the administration’s policy. Emergency rooms will have to treat people who would have been covered under expanded Medicaid, but the hospital won’t be compensated.
Why does LePage chase a few hundred dollars here and there while he is letting hundreds of millions escape the state’s grasp? What principle of frugality justifies this kind of waste and mismanagement?
Suing cities that help immigrants may grab headlines, but it won’t solve Maine’s real problems. Mainers are going to have to pay for this administration’s sloppy work and questionable policy choices. These are the social service problems that deserve the governor’s attention.