Faced with a report of a looming human services crisis, the LePage administration did what it does best: Blame the messenger.

Mary Mayhew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, wrote a Dec. 8 column in the Portland Press Herald, accusing the paper of “needlessly frighten(ing) families and vulnerable individuals,” because it reported how cuts to reimbursement rates were undermining the system of community-based services for people with developmental challenges. (“Maine used to be a leader in caring for adults with intellectual handicaps. What went wrong?” Dec. 4)

But it’s the department, not the newspaper, that is frightening these individuals and their families, and their concern is far from “needless.” Providers say that state austerity is starving them to the point that they cannot make space for the people who need their services, and if it continues, it could even make them close their doors to those who are getting help now.

Mayhew delivered a spirited defense of state policy in her column, but failed to address relevant facts brought forward in the news story. They include:

• The waiting list for group home services for developmentally challenged adults has grown tenfold since 2008 (just before Gov. LePage took office), climbing from 111 to 1,200.

• Reimbursement rates for the nonprofits that deliver those services have been slashed 12 percent since 2008, which, when adjusted for inflation, accounts for a cut in buying power of more than 30 percent.


• The administration plans changes to the funding formula for reimbursements that would amount to an additional reduction of as much as 7.5 percent, which group home operators say could prevent programs from expanding to meet the need and cause existing ones to shut their doors.

Cuts to these reimbursement rates started during the Baldacci administration, but despite LePage’s regular, self-congratulatory rhetoric about his commitment to helping these families, circumstances have gotten demonstrably worse on his watch.

In response to these findings, Mayhew trotted out a series of irrelevancies:

• Between 2011 (when LePage came to office) and this year, DHHS has increased funding for these programs by $72 million.

• Other states pay much less per person for these services.

• Maine will have more money available to help this population because it has resisted expanding Medicaid to offer health insurance to the near poor.


Some of these points are laughable (Medicaid expansion would have involved almost all federal money, so the state saved virtually nothing that could be spent elsewhere by refusing it). All of her points are arguable, but doing so would be a waste of time.

The question isn’t how much the state is appropriating for these programs as a whole, but the rate at which it reimburses providers. LePage could put $1 billion more into his budget to cover the services, but if the rate is not high enough to compensate a provider for operating a group home, the provider won’t do it and the waiting lists will get even longer.

The inescapable truth is that during this administration’s time in office, the situation has gotten worse. Families are struggling to provide the supports their loved ones need once they age out of the school system. Those who don’t have strong families with the resources to help them risk drifting into homelessness.

Instead of accepting reality and striving to change it, the administration is choosing its own reality – one in which the state can slash reimbursement rates and still meet its responsibilities. It’s a reality in which the real problem is media bias, not a policy that confuses cutting services with delivering them efficiently.

Mayhew is right: Families are frightened about what lies ahead, especially when they hear the governor say that his proposed budget will feature a reduction of income tax rates for the highest earners that’s paid for with spending cuts.

They don’t believe that the state will do a better job with fewer resources. Frankly, neither do we.

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