The Universal Notebook: Denial of Health and Human Services

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Last March, I devoted a column to the war on the poor being waged by Gov. Paul LePage and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. A year later, the war continues.

At this point, DHHS should change its name to Denial of Health and Human Services, for that is what LePage and Mayhew are doing.

A year ago, I pointed out that LePage’s major offense was refusing federal funds to expand Medicaid. The clock is still ticking on that one. A counter on the Cover Maine Now website has the number at more than $746.5 million as I write this. That’s 69,000 Mainers who are without health insurance simply because the LePage administration has a political objection to Obamacare.

Under LePage and Mayhew, more than half the families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families have been cut from the program, and that’s not because they no longer need the assistance. Over the past five years, the percentage of children living in extreme poverty has increased by 50 percent. While food insecurity has decreased in most other states, it has increased more than 10 percent in Maine. The percentage of uninsured Maine children has risen from 4 percent to 6 percent in the past two years. And Maine is the only state in the country that has not increased the percentage of people with health coverage since the Affordable Care Act was passed.

That is not a record anyone in Maine should be proud of, but LePage and Mayhew apparently are.

LePage’s refusal to take hundreds of millions of federal dollars to insure tens of thousands of Maine people hurts not only those left uninsured, but it hurts hospitals, too. Funding the ACA was in part predicated on cutting Medicare payments to health-care providers with the promise that they would make up the lost revenue with more Medicaid-insured patients seeking health care. But Maine hospitals lost Medicare revenues without gaining Medicaid patients.

And the efforts of LePage and Mayhew to deny health and human services to Maine people continues.

Last June, for example, the state cancelled its contract with Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care to provide ombudsman services, helping those in need navigate the health-care system. An ombudsman is required by state and federal law and did not cost Maine taxpayers anything, because it was funded by a combination of federal funds and private grants. A classic case of putting politics before people.

Currently, LePage and Mayhew are pushing the governor’s bill, LD 1631, which would require citizens taking part in the Parents as Scholars program to satisfy new work requirements or face the loss of child support and transportation services. Democrats fortunately managed to scuttle another of the governor’s draconian bills, LD 1652, which would have denied school funding, general assistance and revenue sharing to cities and towns that fail to report immigrant status to the feds.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary scolded the LePage administration for cutting more than 12,000 Mainers from the food stamp program without helping them to find jobs or learn marketable skills. And that came on the heels of federal complaints that Maine’s DHHS takes longer to process food stamp applications than any state in the nation.

“What this administration has been doing,” said James Myall, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, “is taking down the scaffolding that helps people climb out of poverty. They have just denied assistance, not improved people’s economic situation.”

“The culture at DHHS has changed in a dramatic way,” said Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners. “All too often we hear from people who are having a hard time accessing help. The nasty rhetoric about welfare cheats has created a culture of disrespect and stigma, of demonizing people who need to turn to public assistance for help. It was already hard having to ask for help and this only makes it harder.”

Please God, we will be rid of LePage and Mayhew in a few years, but the culture of condemnation and shame they have infected the DHHS with may outlive them like systemic virus.

“Even if we are able to get different leadership,” asked Emily Brostek, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, “how long is it going to take to put back the culture of coverage, of trying to help people?”

In the world according to LePage and Mayhew, poverty is failure and asking for help is a sin. Their approach to helping those in need is akin to throwing children into water over their head to force them to sink or swim. And tossing them a lifesaver won’t teach them to swim. It’s not effective, just cruel.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Queenie42

    What really gets to me is that it is so devastatingly obvious that LePage and Mayhew have so many followers. A cheerleading squad of uneducated, racist, bigoted haters of anyone who may need help from government funded programs designed to get people back on their feet and out of a life of sickness and misery.
    Maine used to be the friendliest state. Now it is a place where once ordinary people feel it their duty to vilify the poor even though they may be just one paycheck from being poor themselves. They have been duped into believing that they have a right to say just where their tax dollars are spent. This is mass insanity.
    And they yell the loudest (and carry a gun to back them up) that we are a “Christian” nation, all the while leaving Christ’s massages forgotten or discarded.

    • EABeem

      Amen. It’s disgusting, but appealing to worst in people seems to work for people like LePage and Trump.

    • Charles Martel

      “Uneducated, racist, bigoted haters”? Look, it’s simple as Michael Savage would say, “Liberalism is a mental disorder”. We’re tired of you clowns telling conservatives we’re bad people and you’re not going to get away with it. There used to be a stigma for being a free-loader and now it’s acceptable? We love LePage and Trump. Get used to it.

      • Queenie42

        If the shoe fits………
        Who’s Michael Savage?

        • Aliyah33

          I understand you likely meant the question as tongue and cheek, but here’s a link below. Michael Savage has written a NY Times #1 Bestselling book (Diseases Without Borders). There are numerous articles in the website, too, perhaps worth the time to read.

        • drugsandkittens

          Ironically, he’s a “conservative” radio host who has said things like the following:

          About veterans suffering from PTSD:
          “Everyone has depression in their life. But if the whole nation is told, ‘boo-hoo-hoo, come and get a medication, come and get treatment, talk about mental illness.’ You know what you wind up with? You wind up with Obama in the White House and liars in every phase of the government. That’s what you wind up with. It’s a weak, sick, nation. A weak, sick, broken nation. And you need men like me to save the country.
          You need men to stand up and say stop crying like a baby over everything…No wonder we’re being laughed at around the world. No wonder ISIS can defeat our military.”

          Children with Autism:
          “Now, the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s abrat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a @#$%&!. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.'”

          He’s also banned from England.

          That’s who Michael Savage is …. so, who has a mental illness??

          • Aliyah33

            That is pretty bad. So, it’s likely we’d pick up on that if we read/heard Michael Savage. I’d never heard of him before. I will read and listen to podcasts by people to get a better understanding before jumping to a conclusion, but your examples are succinct. Thanks.

          • drugsandkittens

            Yeah — he’s a bad guy and one of the people (along with Rush, Coulter, Trump, etc.), who is ruining American conservative thought. Turn off the radio folks and pick up some books/essays by actual conservatives.

          • Queenie42

            Michael Savage. And his followers who take him seriously.

  • Aliyah33

    To be clear from the onset, there appears a disproportionate focus on fraud committed by what’s, in reality, a very low percentage of the people receiving welfare benefits. I also agree that several are being denied benefits but are truly in need; it’s not a hand-out but a hand-up, and anyone of us could find ourselves in a situation during our lives when we’ll need help in some way.

    However, I’ve also observed many complaints from EABeem focused on blaming LePage et al for the problems regarding government benefits and healthcare without putting a foot forward and giving ideas how we can fix those problems (besides the pat answer of “get the bums out of office”). If Emily Brostek, as Beem has quoted above, mentions, it’ll take a long time to get back on track even when the culture’s reversed, why should we wait to address the problems when people are currently in need now?

    In looking at several articles, facts are the federal government is setting rules for States to continue receiving money, not required as mandates in statutes, but tied to TANF and SNAP benefits and address fraud. Go figure, right? Here’s our federal government not accountable for trillions of dollars missing (Pentagon, etc.), fraud and corruption in abundance and putting the boots to faces of citizens. We’d have plenty of money to help citizens if we’d address the real areas of fraud.

    Another fact, Obamacare doesn’t work for the majority. We don’t need insurance, we need access to healthcare. The money would be better spent in providing clinics (even mobile clinics) across this country. Hospitals wouldn’t be inundated with people seeking access through costly emergency rooms. LePage (all of us) also paid millions of dollars in long overdue debt to hospitals in Maine for Mainecare services.

    Contributors to poor health usually leading to chronic and debilitating conditions include poor food choices (not necessarily because of ignorance, but the fact low nutrition foods are cheaper, while produce and whole foods are oftentimes difficult to access or too expensive). We could also demand the U.S. to prohibit putting flouride in our water and foods (Brunswick and Topsham Water District puts flouride in the town’s water.) “The Great Culling: Our Water” documentary would be an eye-opener to many; we’ve focused on BPA products, etc. and not even looked at flouride which is banned in so many other countries, and a likely reason for so many health problems (including dental) in the U.S.A. Follow the money.

    The Forecaster has an excellent article regarding Mr. Mitchell’s visit to the Brunswick food pantry to celebrate it’s expansion. We need more food pantries – and perhaps even some mobile food pantries. Why can’t the Brunswick Industrial Park at the former BNAS also include a hub for a food pantry mobile unit facility? There’s CDBG slush fund grants given for almost anything – even for dog grooming facilities; seems town leadership could seek CDBG grants for a mobile food pantry. EABeem, time to think out of the box…and to hope!

    • EABeem

      The problems in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services are Paul LePage, Mary Mayhew, the Maine Heritage Policy Wonks who have taken over and their blame-the-poor philosophy.

      • Aliyah33

        EABeem, your response clearly shows you didn’t understand what I’d written. This is likely the reason we butt heads at times. Your one sentence is the summary of your op post.

        • EABeem

          I read it and just restated my essential point, which I believe to be absolutely true. We have a system that works if it’s not dismantled by ideologues. That said, I have found over the years that it’s a waste of time arguing with anonymous online commenters.

          • Aliyah33

            EABeem, you’re still butt hurt because I didn’t agree with you before? There’s no argument here. If you’d understood what I’d written, it was actually in agreement with you re the system blaming the poor. Additionally, I’d given reasons why I believe the welfare system’s being dismantled – due to a false perspective there’s rampant fraud.

            Trillions of dollars are missing because of fraud in so many other areas where corrupt politicians and cronies are stealing – Trillions – and this is money which could be used to help people. LePage et al will be replaced, but recovering will be a difficult, lengthy climb. In the meantime, what can be done now despite the roadblocks? People are hungry now, people need healthcare now. Instead of complaining, a request’s made to think outside the box. If it’s such a waste of time to respond to me, along with plenty of other anonymous commenters you continue to respond to, then why persist?

          • EABeem

            I wrote a column about bogeyman of welfare fraud last year. It’s miniscule compared to govt waste and corporate welfare fraud. But it’s easy to get uninformed and prejudiced people to vote for you if you blame all their problems on illegal aliens and welfare cheats. And I mean this sincerely and in the nicest possible way, I really do not care and am never hurt by anonymous comments. I reply when I feel like and if I feel like it.

          • Aliyah33

            No disagreement there, EABeem. “I reply when I feel like and if I feel like it.” Ditto. Likely the same for most of the other anonymous commenters, too.

      • Charles Martel

        No, we blame Leftist economic policies that have destroyed the motivation to work hard and achieve success. Move to Detroit if you truly believe in your welfare theories.

  • Charles Martel

    “Please God, we will be rid of [Obama] and [Burwell] in a few years, but the culture of condemnation and shame they have infected the [country] with may outlive them like systemic virus.”
    Why is it that I’ve been working since I was 12 years old as a caddie and have had to EARN and pay for everything in my life, including my own cell phone, yet, sooooo many people are expecting the government to take care of them from the cradle to the grave?
    If we clean up the free loaders, refugees, asylees and illegals who receive cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, TANF and SSI, then we can support the truly needy. But, that type of logic is foreign to liberals who want to give them the shirts off of everyone else’s back.

    • Aliyah33

      I hear what you’re saying …I raked blueberries for two summers earning $0.06/lb. around 13-14, years of age, volunteered at the local hospital as a teen, too, etc. IMO we can put a lot of the blame in our country’s predominantly self-serving leadership working in tandem with big money corporations. They moved a lot of businesses overseas, and are still moving businesses out of this country. They brought forth NAFTA, CAFTA, TP, TPP, etc. – free trade agreements negatively impacting many as U.S. subsidized corn (GMO?) went into Mexico flooding markets, and resulting in a flood of unemployed Mexicans into the U.S. at a rate of about a half million/year after NAFTA. Poverty increased on both sides of the border, criminal enterprises increased, meth and other illicit drugs flood into the U.S., and Obama through Fast and Furious moves firearms into Mexican cartels. Obamacare is a flat-out flop and another means of funneling money into corporations – not providing healthcare as the plan we were sold. The majority in the U.S. are slow on grasping the realities and when they can’t or don’t want to understand call it “conspiracy theories”. “All empires rot from the inside.”
      (“Thanks Obamacare: This is What Most Americans Spent Money on in 2015”)

  • Lucy Ball

    Anyone who believes federal funding is “free” cannot be taken seriously.

    • EABeem

      Of course, federal money isn’t free. Maine taxpayers paid federal taxes and because LePage is a jerkwater they are not getting anything for their money. Only a complete moron would pass on $1 million a day that could be helping Maine people.