The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that it is directing $3.24 million in savings from its 60-month cap on welfare cash assistance to help pay for home care services for the elderly and its Meals on Wheels program.

Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the diverted surplus was emblematic of the state’s new priorities for social assistance funding.

“We are committed to reprioritizing Maine’s welfare system to best serve our neediest elderly and disabled neighbors,” Mayhew said in a written statement. “The hard and often-criticized work of reforming Maine’s welfare system is paying off with this new initiative to care for the elderly in their homes.”

But Democratic leaders in the Legislature said some of the same groups on the receiving end of the surplus funds would have been on the chopping block under other LePage administration initiatives that were blocked by lawmakers.

“It’s about time that the LePage administration paid attention to the needs of the state’s senior citizens and Mainers with disabilities rather than just proposing brutal cuts,” Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said in a written statement. “The governor’s budget proposal would have had a devastating impact on the health and well-being of Maine’s most vulnerable citizens. The Legislature stopped him, increased funding for these programs and overrode his veto to do so.”

According to a media statement, DHHS had $3.24 million in surplus from the state’s federal block grant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. DHHS will use the surplus to fund programs in its Social Service Block Grant, which distributes funding to Meals on Wheels, consumer-directed home-based care, homemaker services and the home-based care waiting list.

“This is a very proactive and innovative move from DHHS to get funding where it is needed most,” Betsy Sawyer-Manter of Seniors Plus said in a written statement.

According to DHHS, the Meals on Wheels home delivery program has a waiting list of 69 people throughout the state. Eight agencies that have contracts with the state will see a combined increase in funding of $131,539 through the redirected surplus.

Consumer-directed home-based care, which provides skills training for adults with physical disabilities, will receive over $1 million through its Alpha One contract. There is currently a waiting list of 55 people.

DHHS is adding $894,456 in funding to five services provided by Seniors Plus, which includes personal care, respite, homemaking, nursing, nonmedical transport and adult day care. There is currently a waiting list of 64 people.

Catholic Charities, which provides homemaker services and independent support services for tasks such as meal preparation, grocery shopping, laundry and transportation, will receive $1.3 million. There is currently a waiting list of 908 people.

The 60-month cap on TANF benefits was adopted in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Legislature and endorsed by Gov. Paul LePage.

The LePage administration came under fire from advocates for the elderly during the legislative session that ended in July for proposing cuts to the Drugs for the Elderly Program and the Medicaid Savings Plan. Lawmakers rejected those cuts. The governor also tried to eliminate $55,000 in additional money for Meals on Wheels as part of roughly $60 million in line-item vetoes of the state’s $6.7 billion budget, but was overruled by the Legislature.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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