Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that House Speaker Sara Gideon is “dead wrong” that his administration has stockpiled federal welfare funds, and he accused Democrats of trying to keep people on public assistance “so that they can guarantee their vote.”

LePage was responding to a bill introduced by Gideon, D-Freeport, on Tuesday that proposes major changes to welfare programs, including increasing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families payments to eligible families and to child care facilities. Gideon said the initiatives would be paid for with unexpended federal TANF funds, estimated last year to be more than $150 million.

“I will tell you that right on the surface, I have no idea what she is talking about,” LePage said Tuesday on the George Hale Ric Tyler Show on WVOM-FM. “But I am not sitting on $150 million in uncommitted federal funds. She is just dead wrong.”

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has, in fact, acknowledged in the past that it had accrued substantial reserves as a result of policy changes that reduced the TANF caseload.

The Office of Fiscal and Program Review, a non-partisan office of the Legislature, estimated last year that DHHS accrued a balance of $155.4 million between 2012 and 2016 from unexpended TANF block grants. A DHHS spokeswoman said at the time that the amount in the reserve fund will likely plateau in 2017 and be depleted gradually as the state shifts that money to other programs and priorities.

In a statement Monday, DHHS said Gideon’s bill would “drain the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) fund in a very short period of time, but would also further promote welfare-dependency rather than independence.”

Told by Hale about the source of the $150 million figure, LePage said, “They’ll have to come down and show me where the money is.”

“If you get her under oath, she’d have to tell you that her priorities are different from the administration’s,” LePage said. “They would like to keep people on welfare so that they can guarantee their vote. We’d like to keep them off welfare so that they can live and become more productive and contributing to their own families and their own lives.”

Gideon and Democrats have repeatedly accused LePage and DHHS of harming families through policy changes that tightened the eligibility criteria to receive TANF. They also point to reports showing that child poverty is increasing in Maine at a faster rate than the national average.

Also during the radio interview, LePage defended his legislative proposals to require school officials and others to report the use of drugs or alcohol by pregnant women and require local governments to charge people for the cost of administering multiple doses of the anti-overdose drug Narcan.

“In the last four or five years so many kids are born afflicted with drugs,” LePage said. “It’s about trying to get control of this opiate problem.”

He also said it’s not fair that people with severe allergies have to pay hundreds of dollars for an EpiPen that might save their lives, “but you can be on opiates and Narcan you get free shots? … Why should they (opiate addicts) get an advantage over someone who has a medical condition through no fault of their own?”

LePage has argued that the availability of Narcan encourages drug use, but his arguments have been dismissed by legislators, the Attorney General and the addiction treatment community, all of whom argue the drug is saving lives.

LePage also discussed his ongoing spat over bonds with state Treasurer Terry Hayes, which has delayed preparations for dozens of summertime highway construction projects. And he continued to state that he was routinely left out of discussions or meetings about the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, a claim strongly rejected by those behind the monument.

The monument designation is now under review by the Trump administration, at LePage’s request.

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