Before being elected to the Maine Senate, I followed local, state, and national issues but did not really take an active role as family and work came first. As the years passed, though, I realized it was time to become actively involved in local issues, but continued to stew over state and national issues. Now, as both a lawmaker and as a citizen of Maine, one of my primary focuses is the accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness of government.

Over the years, one of the most frustrating sectors of state government to observe has been the Department of Health and Human Services. The department takes up nearly half of the state budget, as it runs our state’s welfare programs as well as child protective services, mental health and elder care services, and programs like disease control and health inspections.

DHHS has a long history, dating back to previous administrations, of costing Mainers money due to errors. Among those are the computer glitch that cost the state more than $10 million because of MaineCare overpayments. Until recently, DHHS coming to the Legislature to ask for money to cover large budget shortfalls (at one point reaching $150 million during Governor King’s tenure) was just a normal part of life in Augusta.

With the amount of taxpayer money that goes into running DHHS and the number of Mainers it serves, it is especially important to me that citizens are able to trust that the department is run well. That is why I am disappointed to hear DHHS errors continue to cost Mainers money. Recently, we heard the news that a missed deadline may be costing the state’s taxpayers an estimated $20 million. In 2013, Riverview Psychiatric lost its federal certification, prompting DHHS to file plans to correct the problems that resulted in that loss. However, the federal government refused to recertify Riverview, a decision DHHS then appealed. Now the federal government is asserting that Maine actually missed the deadline to appeal, resulting in loss of certification and funding. While appealing the decision, DHHS continued to spend federal money which may now have to be paid back.

I, for one, would like to know what actually happened here. My hope is that we find Maine does not have to pay back the $20 million, and that DHHS is correct in its confidence that Maine is in the right. For transparency’s sake and to ensure we get it right in the future, we need to address the situation.

I have discussed this with many legislators on both sides of the aisle, and they share my concerns. That is why I am looking into what kind of legislative action can be taken to look into this most recent development at DHHS and what can be done to prevent similar occurrences going forward.

In the meantime, please contact me with your thoughts and concerns on this matter or about any other legislative issue you’d like to discuss. I can be reached at: 432- 5643 or [email protected]

State Senator David Woodsome represents Senate District 33.