Democratic Radio Address by Sen. Geoff Gratwick (Penobscot): LePage War on Poor A Cyincal Political Campaign Strategy, Witch Hunt

Posted on April 11, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Audio here.

DEMOCRATIC RADIO ADDRESS
Gratwick says: The Governor’s war on the poor is a cynical political campaign strategy, a witch hunt

gratwick in senateIn his office, Governor LePage rings alarm bells on a daily basis about fraud and abuse. But his choice of when to sound the alarm is selective. He does not ring the alarm for all fraud and abuse, only when he talks about the poor.

Good Morning. This is State Senator Geoff Gratwick of Bangor.

Make no mistake, fraud and abuse, of any sort, is wrong; it is cheating, it is stealing. Where ever it exists, it must be prosecuted–and our laws must be strong.

Here’s the thing: our laws are strong.

The Maine Attorney General’s office and Department of Health and Human Services have active divisions dedicated to investigating and prosecuting fraud and abuse. In fact, in the past several years, lawmakers passed a measure giving the state an additional $700,000 per year to fight fraud. We hired an additional seven fraud investigators so we now have a total of 17. To put that in perspective, the state only has 12 investigators inspecting the safety of daycare centers for infants and children in Maine.

And so it seems, Maine has all the tools needed to investigate potential cases of fraud.

While Governor LePage is holding press conferences with glossy photos of EBT cards, a closer look at where recovered funds actually come from gives a more accurate picture of the true extent of the problem. And, it suggests that perhaps the Governor is more interested in politics than in protecting the public purse in his pursuit of fraud and abuse.

Over the last four years, from 2010 to 2014, Maine has prosecuted and recovered funds related to fraud and abuse by individuals and large corporations. Here are the facts: you decide which group deserves more attention.

Maine, along with the federal government, has prosecuted 48 medical and pharmaceutical corporations and recovered $55 MILLION DOLLARS. To their shame, these businesses include some of the largest and best known medical companies in the country – Walgreens, Johnson and Johnson, Avandia, and Merck.

The state also prosecuted 37 individuals for abuse of SNAP and TANF benefits. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) and TANF is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Recent data from DHHS indicates that less than half of one percent of folks, that is one in every 200 people receiving benefits have abused these programs. The guilty folks have been sentenced to jail for up to a year and returned $489,000 to the state treasury.

The evidence simply does not support accusations of widespread problems.

So compare: big corporations fraudulently took $55 MILLION DOLLARS, and individuals fraudulently took less than HALF a MILLION DOLLARS.

Make no mistake. No amount of fraud is acceptable. But in a time of scarce resources, is it unacceptable that the Governor is spending more than $700,000 to recover less than $500,000 from individuals.

The Governor has focused our attention solely on the low income people in front of us in the grocery line buying food with an EBT card because they are an easy target. It’s easier to rail against the poor than it is to make sure our system works for all Mainers.

Just this week, Senate Democrats voted in support of a measure that would have banned the so-called “Prohibited Five” from purchase with TANF dollars. The items on this list include alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, bail, and strip clubs. It makes common sense that in order for a program to work effectively and help families and children in crisis get back on their feet, it is essential that these dollars not go toward things like alcohol and cigarettes.

But for all the tough talk, not a single Republican supported the measure to ban the “Prohibited Five”–even though it was nearly identical to a bill sponsored by Governor LePage. One has to wonder why.

The Governor’s war on the poor is a cynical political campaign strategy, a witch hunt; he has chosen to demonize people who are poor–even if they are the working poor- for political advantage.

The poor and the powerless have been easy scapegoats since history began. It easier to stoke popular fear and resentment of the ‘other’, to blame the victim, than it is to find real solutions to difficult problems.

The only way we can curb fraud and abuse by individuals is by using the proven levers that help people escape poverty: education, jobs and health care. The only way we can curb corporate abuse is to have a government that functions well. This is a job that must involve us all, including the Governor.

Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Geoff Gratwick. Have a great spring weekend.

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Maine Senate Takes Up EBT- TANF- GA Bills LDs 1829, 1822, 1820, 1842, 1815 and 1844 (VIDEOS)

Posted on April 8, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

(NOTE: All of these will be separated and written up over the rest of the week. In the meanwhile, for the sake of sharing quickly, here are all 44 video clips taken during the Monday afternoon/ evening second session in order of debate.)

1. 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”.
ROLL CALL: 21 Yeas – 14 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1829 to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1829

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1829

Asst Minority Leader Sen. Roger Katz Opposing LD 1829

Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) Supporting LD 1829

2. LD 1822, “An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures”.
ROLL CALL: 18 Yeas – 17 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1822 (OTP as amended by H-787) to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting H-787 amended LD 1822

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Offers SAS 505 to amend LD 1822

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1822 SAS-505

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 CAH 787, SAS 505

Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. David Burns (R-Washington) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) concludes supporting remarks on LD 1822, SAS-505

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 2)

3. LD 1820, “An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers”.
ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1820 as amended to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1820

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1820

4. LD 1842, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1842 to Senate w/ ONTP committee recommendation

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1842

Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1842

Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

5. LD 1815, “An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
ROLL CALL: 20 Yeas – 15 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1815 (“ONTP”) to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Sen. Ron Collins (R-York) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Asst Majority Leader Anne Haskell (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

6. LD 1844, “An Act To Increase Local Responsibility for General Assistance”.
ROLL CALL: 22 Yeas – 12 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1844 (ONTP) to Senate

Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. John Cleveland (D-Androscoggin) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Somerset) opposing LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

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“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:

DSC_0040

    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.

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:

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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Governor LePage EBT/ TANF Reform Bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 & 1842 Get Public Hearing (VIDEOS)

Posted on March 27, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

DSC_0044One day after Governor LePage, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and others held a press conference in the governor’s cabinet room to roll out multiple EBT/ TANF reform measures, the bills were presented to the Legislature’s HHS Committee at a public hearing. After hearing the bills presented and discussed by supporters and opponents at a public hearing, the committee met again for a work session on Wednesday.

Ultimately the committee passed LD 1822, as amended, which would prohibit the use of electronic benefit transaction (EBT) cards in smoke shops, expanding upon current law that prohibits their use at liquor stores, strip clubs and casinos, sanction individuals who misuse the card, notify recipients of temporary assistance that funds should not be used to purchase tobacco or alcohol or used to post bail, require recipients to sign an understanding of where EBT cards could be used and send similar notification to merchants.

They also passed LD 1820 (amended as a resolve), which would direct the Department of Health and Human Services fraud unit to work with the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute the use of Maine-issued EBT cards out of state by non-residents and report back to the committee on its efforts.

HHS Chairs Sen. Craven and Rep. Farnsworth question DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew during public hearing. Also pictured, Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Waterville)

HHS Chairs Sen. Craven and Rep. Farnsworth question DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew during public hearing. Also pictured, Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Waterville)

LDs 1815 and 1842 were rejected by the majority of committee members, with harsh criticism leveled at LePage by the HHS Committee chairs.

    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.”

Some statements from opponents are below.

    Sara Gagné-Holmes, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners: “Maine families turn to TANF when they are in crisis — domestic violence, illness or disability or other family traumas. More than 90 percent have work experience. What they often lack is a path to sustainable employment — a job that enables them to support their children and meet their basic needs. These are dead-end proposals that will lock people into low wage jobs without benefits or hope for advancement. Policy should be driven by facts and the actual circumstances of these families. These bills fail that test. They are driven by anecdote and misperception and do nothing to address the biggest problem that these families face, which is poverty. In fact, they create new barriers to job training and education.”

    Danna Hayes, director of public policy, Maine Women’s Lobby: “These proposals target a program focused on helping mothers and children with very low income. We support efforts to help parents obtain employment, but these jobs need to provide enough so that women are able to support their families and leave poverty behind. Simply requiring people to apply for three jobs regardless of the jobs available and the family’s circumstances will not help people get ahead. Instead, this job search requirement will close the door on education and training opportunities parents can access through the TANF program.”

    Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance: “Preparing Maine for a prosperous future begins with recognizing that our youngest residents must get what they need today to become the adults who will strengthen our communities and build our economy. At a time when child poverty is on the rise, lawmakers should be focused on policies that reverse this troubling trend. Not only do these proposals distract us from working to address this growing problem, they also unfairly stigmatize low-income families and drive children deeper into poverty.”


Here are (in order of speakers) clips from the public hearing on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Rep. Ken Fredette introduces Gov. LePage bill LD 1815 to HHS Committee

Rep. Allen Nadeau (R-Ft Kent) presents LD 1820 to HHS

LD 1820 co-sponsor Rep. Terry Hayes (D-Buckfield) speaks in support of bill

Rep. Shari MacDonald (R-OOB) presents LD 1822 to HHS Committee

LD 1822 Cosponsor Terry Hayes speaks in support of bill

Rep. James Gillway (R-Searsport), town manager of Searsport, offers LD 1842 to HHS Committee

LePage administration senior health policy advisor Holly Lusk speaks in support of bills

HHS Committee asks questions of LePage administration’s Holly Lusk

MDOL Director of Legislative Affairs Susan Wasserott speaks in support of LePage EBT/ TANF bills

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew testifies in support of LePage 4 EBT/ TANF bills (pt 1)

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew answers HHS Cmte ?s on LePage 4 EBT/ TANF bills (pt 2)

Attorney Heidi Hart, former TANF recipient, testifies against bills

Heidi Hart, former TANF recipient, answers HHS Committee questions

All bills will now go before the Legislature.

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(VIDEOS) Governor LePage, DHHS Commissioner Mayhew Unveil TANF, EBT Program Reform Bills

Posted on March 27, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Earlier this week, a press conference was held in the governor’s cabinet room as Maine Governor Paul LePage, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) and Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald spoke on 4 bills restricting usage of EBT/ TANF benefits.

From the media advisory:

Rep. Fredette addresses media during press conference.

Rep. Fredette addresses media during press conference.

As he announced in his State of the State Address, Governor Paul R. LePage has submitted legislation to reform welfare by restricting some use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and by requiring applicants for welfare to look for work before receiving taxpayer-funded benefits. The Governor has submitted four bills that would:

  • Prevent the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits for alcohol,tobacco products, lottery tickets and bail;
  • Prohibit TANF recipients from using EBT cards to access TANF benefits out of state
  • Require job-ready TANF applicants to look for three jobs before receiving welfare benefits
  • Removes state exemptions allowing TANF recipients to get around the federal work requirement.

“These TANF benefits are supposed to help vulnerable families with young children,” said Governor LePage. “Instead, welfare benefits are being used for alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, bail and other purchases that hardworking taxpayers should not be footing the bill for. With 6,700 job openings listed online at Maine Job Bank, TANF applicants should have no problem looking for work before asking the taxpayers for welfare benefits.”

Links here to the bills:

1. LD 1815, “An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”
(Governor’s Bill) Sponsored by Representative Kenneth Fredette

2. LD 1820, “An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers”
(Governor’s Bill) Sponsored by Representative Allen Nadeau

3. LD 1822, “An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures”
(Governor’s Bill) Sponsored by Representative Sharri MacDonald

4. LD 1842, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”
(Governor’s Bill) Sponsored by Representative James Gillway

Here are clips of the entire press conference, including a parsed-out moment at the beginning where the Governor provided cover for his embattled DHHS commissioner from media questions.

Gov. LePage admonishes press not to ask DHHS Mayhew about CDC shredding scandal

Governor LePage discusses EBT/ TANF restrictive bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842

Remarks of DHHS Head Mary Mayhew on 4 LePage EBT/ TANF restrictive bills

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) Remarks on LePage 4 EBT/ TANF restrictive bills

Remarks of Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald on 4 LePage EBT/ TANF restrictive bills

Q&A at end of LePage, Mayhew EBT/TANF Bills press conference

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