Under Gov. Paul LePage’s leadership, the State has reigned in irresponsible spending and upheld the rights of Mainers. But recently the Bangor Daily News (BDN) published an article accusing the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) of throwing away federal money and abandoning mentally ill Mainers.
What makes this such a surprising accusation is that the article is based upon a flawed premise. Even the title of the article says “With no explanation, Maine rejects scarce funds for young people with mental illness,” which is not true.
The fact of the matter is that, according to DHHS, “services for these youth will continue undisturbed. Only the funding source will change,” as “these services can continue uninterrupted by folding them into current state spending with the Mental Health Block Grant, Medicaid program and other funding sources.”
The BDN article, written by staff writer Matthew Stone, talked about all the people in the program with mental illnesses who would no longer receive help by Maine’s declining of federal grants, an obvious attempt to pluck at the heart strings of their readership. The truth though is that DHHS “has identified every person receiving these services and are working with them to ensure they continue to have the appropriate services in place.”
Funding for this program originally came from the federal government’s Healthy Transition Grant, a program supported by federal funds to help mentally ill youth who are having trouble transitioning into adulthood. As DHHS says, “these types of grants are not meant to be permanent sources of funding.”
A good sign of Maine’s improved budgeting capabilities under LePage, DHHS has chosen to respect the fact that whether money comes from the feds or the state, it’s all taxpayer money, and it should be respected as such without waste.
“Whether we are utilizing Federal or State dollars, we have a responsibility to manage those dollars with utmost frugality and integrity – it would be irresponsible to continue drawing down these grant dollars when other funding sources exist,” the DHHS said.
Maine’s DHHS has found the proper funding source and is switching to it, much as a young person becoming an adult switches from their parents’ finances to their own income. In finding a way to fund the same program with existing state funds, they are choosing to perform their duties to the Maine public by decreasing Maine’s reliance on the federal government.
Yet as the administration takes a step towards self-reliance, a long held Maine tradition, the BDN accuses them of doing the opposite.
Stone’s article also referred to the federal grant as a five-year program which the state is abandoning after two years, “[forfeiting] the last three years of funding.” But, according to the department, DHHS has been receiving this grant over the last eight years. Perhaps the BDN was confused because the program became part of the current federal administration’s “Now is the Time” program.
According to the BDN, the Obama administration’s “Now is the Time” program is a series of gun control initiatives with other programs brought under it, with an agenda “emphasizing a handful of gun control measures.” However, DHHS has confirmed that no gun control mandates were attached to access these funds.
In essence, the BDN made a story out of a non-story, and stretched the truth to fit their narrative.
Personally, I like the sound of what the Maine DHHS is doing; helping Mainers with mental illness without becoming encumbered by government bureaucracy while looking out for the interests of taxpayers.
The Maine DHHS stated, “this is about returning federal money the state does not need because we cannot create a dependency on funding that could be gone tomorrow based on federal decisions,” so they’re “incorporating these services into [the] current [state] funding sources,” as “this is what a smart reduction in the size of government looks like.”
So, perhaps the BDN title should have gone a little more like this: “Maine DHHS takes critical step towards financial solvency by limiting dependence on federal funds.”
We should all be thanking Commissioner Mayhew and the LePage administration for spending our tax dollars efficiently, without compromising critical care to those in need.