YARMOUTH – Attempts by the Legislature to fix a funding shortfall within the Department of Health and Human Services budget still don’t go far enough to protect Maine’s most vulnerable, Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Sunday.

Mayhew made her comments in Yarmouth at the Log Cabin American Legion Post during a meeting sponsored by Maine Taxpayers United and the Cumberland County Tea Party Patriots, one of several Tea Party Patriots chapters in Maine.

Mayhew said her department’s budget needs to undergo serious structural reform in order for it to become the true safety net it was intended to be.

“We have created a culture of dependency,” Mayhew said, referring to welfare programs and those individuals who have become caught in a web of “generational poverty.” She said DHHS funding and programs need to serve only those who truly need services.

As an example of not meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, Mayhew cited the DHHS budget-balancing package endorsed by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee last week. The panel tentatively agreed to $140 million in cuts, revenue-shifting and other measures to cover the DHHS shortfall for the 2012 fiscal year.

The proposal, which is expected to go before the House and Senate this week, does not include funds to help provide services for persons with developmental disabilities, Mayhew said. A disabled person graduating from high school and transitioning into the adult world must go on a waiting list to get needed services, she said.

“They should be our true priority,” Mayhew said. “You don’t need to look any farther than that to see where we have lost our way.”

To balance the DHHS budget and focus spending on the most needy, Gov. Paul LePage has proposed $221 million in cuts to the state’s Medicaid system, called MaineCare, to get the program through this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the next year. That would have eliminated coverage for 65,000 people.

Sunday’s tea party event attracted a crowd of about 40 people, including several incumbent legislators as well as those who plan to run for seats in Augusta.

Among the participants was Scott Lansley, political director for Maine Taxpayers United, which is affiliated with the Cumberland County Tea Party Patriots. The group’s mission is to reduce the state and local tax burden as well as promote prudent government spending. LePage used to serve on MTU’s board of directors, Lansley said.

He said the forum was one in a series aimed at raising public awareness about issues facing state government.

Beth O’Connor, a Republican state representative from Berwick who serves as chairwoman of the MTU, introduced Mayhew.

“I can tell you that Mary Mayhew is the hardest-working woman I have met. If she can’t fix what is broken at the DHHS, I don’t know that there is anyone who can,” O’Connor told the audience.

Mayhew took nearly an hour to provide the group with an overview of the agency she was named to lead one year ago. She said the agency will run out of money by April unless steps are taken to reduce spending.

Later in this session, lawmakers are expected to debate a separate bill calling for an additional $100 million in cuts to the DHHS’s fiscal 2013 budget, Mayhew said.

She said her department is “huge, offering an incredible breadth of scope and services,” and employs more than 3,600 people.

Mayhew said LePage is trying to restore financial integrity and accountability to the department, but in order to achieve that goal, the administration needs to consolidate departments and become more efficient.

“We have to seek structural reform. It can’t be smoke and mirrors,” she said. “We need to create financial stability.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

 


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