“Put Up or Shut Up” Time! Maine Legislature Takes Up LD 1829, Directing DHHS to Report EBT/ TANF Fraud

Posted on April 7, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

When Governor LePage and others in March held a press conference in the governor’s cabinet room and rolled out a slew of EBT/ TANF welfare reform bills, they were widely seen as election year politicized moves and characterized as a “bait and switch”tactic by LePage:

    “The governor maintains that “millions” of dollars in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families EBT card transactions must be fraudulent because, well, they were spent out of state. Yet even though it’s perfectly legal to spend TANF funds beyond Maine, the governor is determined to eliminate the transactions entirely.

    And he isn’t letting the facts get in the way of a good election year issue.

    The actual total of so-called “questionable” out-of-state TANF transactions in 2013 was about $1 million, or about .0002 percent of Maine’s biennial budget – or almost exactly what the governor spent on his no-bid, politically rigged and economically flawed Alexander Group “welfare report.”

    But if that’s not enough, the governor can’t actually prove that any of these transactions were fraudulent because the government doesn’t track the purchases. Instead, all he can do it spout anecdotes, allegations and breathless hyperbole.”

After the bills’ public hearing, the HHS Committee chairs minced no words in their criticism of the governor’s tactics:

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    Sen. Margaret Craven of Lewiston: “Governor LePage’s proposals will not help people get a job and get back on their feet. They will simply make it harder for struggling families to survive. The right route to reform is through education and training. We certainly should not be passing the buck to our towns and shirking on our responsibility.”

    Rep. Dick Farnsworth of Portland: “If there is fraud, no matter how small, it should be investigated and prosecuted, not politicized. We are directing the Governor to investigate that fraud and prosecute it, if it is real. He should stop using it to pull the rug out from struggling families, especially at a time when Maine has one of the worst job growth records in the nation. Governor LePage has built his election campaigns on cynically stereotyping poor Mainers under the guise of welfare reform. The reality is that his policies have only led to a rise in homelessness and an increase in child hunger.”

Upon hearing about the bills initially and their intent, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills sent a letter last month to Democratic leaders, urging them to “put this matter into perspective”, “go after big fish as well as small” and “not elevate one over another”. Her 3 page missive is below.

View this document on Scribd

To that end, HHS Committee member Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) put forth a bill, LD 1829 “An Act To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs”, to combat the claims of the Governor’s office of fraud and do exactly what the attorney general urged.

Here are his prepared remarks as delivered before the legislature’s standing HHS committee at the bill’s public hearing, held immediately after those for LDs 1815, 1822, 1820, and 1842:

View this document on Scribd

More from a Maine House Democrats press release:

HHS Committee members Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) and Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) listen to testimony during the public hearings for LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842.

HHS Committee members Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) and Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) listen to testimony during the public hearings for LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842.

    According to a report in the Portland Press Herald, despite the effort, the number of successful prosecutions has increased from eight in 2010, to 10 in 2011, to 15 in 2012. The amount of restitution that courts have ordered increased from $92,339 in 2010 to $104,341 in 2012. In 2012, only 13 people were convicted of welfare fraud .

    “What we see from the Governor and the administration is more smoke and mirrors. The Governor has the tools and resources to fight fraud. But he’s not doing the job,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee. “Not only are his proposals unconstitutional and unenforceable, but they deflect attention from the real waste and mismanagement on his watch.”

    Under Governor Paul LePage, the Department of Health and Human Services has been plagued by chronic mismanagement and budget shortfalls that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

    The Department has squandered taxpayer dollars on a failed MaineCare rides contract and the controversial Alexander report, it has overpaid long-term care providers, and lost the state’s certification and federal funding for the Riverview Psychiatric Center. The Department is also under scrutiny for document shredding at the CDC and tampering with the public bidding process for smoking cessation dollars.

    Gattine has a proposed a measure, LD 1829, which would increase accountability and prevent fraud in the state’s anti-poverty and Medicaid programs. The bill would require an annual program integrity report on all fraud waste and abuse activities including provider and consumer prosecutions and on-going DHHS management issues.

    “We need to shed light on what’s happening at the Department,” said Gattine.

The bill as amended passed the House last week, but only by a 92-52 margin. It next goes before the Senate this afternoon, as do LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842.

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