December 13, 2013

OUR OPINION: Thumbs up, thumbs down

Quick takes on the issues making news this week in central Maine.

THUMBS UP to the anonymous donor, identified only as a former Fairfield resident, who has pledged $25,000 to the Interfaith Food Pantry, reinvigorating an effort to raise money to renovate a building into the pantry’s new home.

The fundraising drive quickly raised $50,000 following its launch, but it has taken in just $8,000 in the past five months. Around $150,000 is needed to renovate the building, a former warehouse behind the town office that the town donated earlier this year.

The pantry, which says it has provided food for 68,000 people since it was founded in 1993, is part of the private safety net that supplements government programs now stressed by budget cuts and increasing demand. Town Manager Josh Reny said the pantry saves the town from using general assistance funds to keep residents from going hungry. Municipalities across Maine have seen an uptick in the need for general assistance, which could be cut further if legislators can’t plug a hole in the state budget.

THUMBS DOWN to the LePage administration and the Department of Health and Human Services for their continued secrecy and obstruction related to the most recent problems at the beleaguered department.

The department on Tuesday refused to send representatives to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting, where committee members were reviewing the MaineCare rides contract, the decertification of Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, and a contract awarded to an out-of-state firm to find MaineCare savings. Instead, the committee’s questions were answered in writing, which provides neither the timeliness nor the opportunity for follow-up questions afforded by an in-person meeting.

Commissioner Mary Mayhew, in an emailed statement, said department officials already have spent a lot of time at committee meetings and they had to “focus our energy on the day-to-day operation of the department and the delivery of critical services to Maine people.”

That argument would hold more water if Mayhew’s boss, Gov. Paul LePage, hadn’t made his disdain for the committee process clear. It also doesn’t help that the department withheld from lawmakers the corrective action plan filed at the state’s request by Coordinated Transportation Solutions, which continues to have problems administering the MaineCare non-emergency transportation system. The report, which was provided to the committee only after the Portland Press Herald requested a copy, suggested that CTS was asking the state for additional funding even as the company continued to mishandle requests for rides.

The department makes up a significant portion of the state budget and administers a number of highly complex, expensive and widely used programs. The recent problems have far-reaching implications that deserve the attention of legislators. The department should expect and welcome the extra scrutiny, and work with lawmakers to find solutions.

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