November 21, 2018
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Children’s nonprofit gets $9.3M more from DHHS without competing for it

Stock photo | BDN
Stock photo | BDN
The Maine Children's Trust took over management of the Maine Families home visiting program from the state in 2016.

More than two years after it awarded a $23 million contract to a nonprofit group without going through the state’s competitive bidding process, the LePage administration plans to award the same group $9.3 million more — again without asking for competitive bids.

The $9.3 million from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will pay for the nonprofit Maine Children’s Trust to run the state’s Maine Families home visiting program for another year, from Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019, after its current 2½-year contract expires.

The state first outsourced the program’s administration to the trust in 2016, awarding $22.9 million for a 2½-year contract without issuing a request for bids, a step that would have allowed it to evaluate competing proposals and choose the best one.

Maine Families sends trained visitors into the homes of new parents at no charge, both before and after their babies are born, to help them adjust to parenthood, learn effective parenting practices and make their homes safe for young children.

[ How Maine quietly handed off financial oversight of a $23M program for infants]

Most of the $9.3 million will flow to 11 social service, education and health organizations located around the state that employ home visitors and provide visiting services in different regions. About 15 percent of the money the Maine Children’s Trust has received over the past 2½ years — about $1.3 million per year — has covered the costs of administration, data collection, training and clinical consultation.

The home visiting funds make up most of the nonprofit’s annual revenue, according to annual tax filings. When the trust started running the home visiting program in 2016, the addition represented a 558 percent increase in the nonprofit’s revenue.

The $22.9 million, which covered the period from April 2016 through September of this year, came mostly from federal funds, including an annual home visiting grant from the federal government and the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, block grant.

A spokeswoman for DHHS didn’t respond to a request for comment from the BDN about the latest contract. Asked about the state’s performance expectations for the Maine Children’s Trust, Executive Director Pam LaHaye said she couldn’t speak about them because she didn’t yet have a contract.

“As before, the majority of this funding would pass through the Trust to the direct service providers with no indirect costs being charged by the Trust on the direct service funding,” she wrote in an email.

Maine Families home visitors worked with 2,142 families in 2017, according to the KIDS Count data center. That made 2017 the second year in a row during which the number of families served by the program decreased. The program’s peak year was 2010, when 2,569 families received home visits.

Customarily, the state has issued no-bid contracts for smaller sums, but the yearlong contract with the Maine Children’s Trust marks the latest major contract DHHS has awarded without using competitive bidding.

It also reflects the agency’s interest in contracting more of its work out to the private sector.

Earlier this year, DHHS laid off 10 employees who evaluate the disability status of applicants for Medicaid coverage and awarded their work to a Massachusetts firm at a price of $2.7 million annually, which is more than it cost to have state employees perform the work. Following coverage in the BDN, the administration abbreviated that no-bid contract and has since issued a request for proposals. The state says it’s now evaluating the bids it’s received.

In 2013, the department awarded a $925,000, no-bid contract to consultant Gary Alexander for a series of reports on the state’s social service systems. Alexander partially plagiarized those reports, and the state later canceled the contract.

More recently, DHHS has given out smaller no-bid contracts, paid for with TANF funds, to after-school programs around the state.

DHHS justified its most recent non-competitive award to the Maine Children’s Trust by stating in required paperwork that, “[a]fter reasonable investigation,” it appeared the service was “procurable by the State from only one source.” But the department also indicated that it plans to open up the search for additional sources in 2019 by issuing a request for proposals to run Maine Families.

In 2016, DHHS’ justification for the noncompetitive contract was an “emergency,” even though interviews and a BDN review of the trust’s meeting minutes showed the state had been working with the trust for a minimum of nine months to set up the arrangement.

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