Former Gov. Paul LePage recently bragged, in a column published by the Boston Herald, about his two terms in office by saying he “implemented major welfare reforms to limit dependence on government and grow our workforce,” and his goal “was always to direct our limited resources to Maine’s neediest, especially our elderly and people with intellectual disabilities.” The reality is very different.
Maine has been suffering a worker shortage for many years and is now at a crisis point, as the state has more people aging out of the workforce then entering it. LePage feeds the myth that people are “lazy” instead of addressing the real issue: Maine needs people trained to fill the jobs we already have, let alone create new ones.
Our workforce was starving of skilled labor, LePage tried to shrink regional job training boards and refuse more than $8 million in federal funding for job training services for low-income adults, laid-off workers and struggling young adults. Although he eventually was forced to release some funds after losing a lengthy lawsuit, he had already dealt a devastating blow to labor and business in Maine.
As for his “welfare reform,” LePage dragged Maine down to the worst in the nation in its ability to administer the SNAP program, which serves primarily seniors, children, disabled individuals and the working poor. His policies made Maine the most food-insecure state in New England and third-worst in the nation, and created a severe rise in childhood poverty, which accelerated rapidly in the first five years of his administration. His administration misspent $13 million in TANF funds meant for families with children in need.
LePage forfeited nearly $2 billion in federal funds for public health initiatives and dismantled 27 health coalitions, dramatically cutting Mainers’ access to public health resources. He denied more than 70,000 people in Maine health care coverage for years even after the Maine people voted to expand Medicaid.
During his administration, Maine became the only state in the country whose infant mortality rate rose this decade compared to last. LePage misused private funds donated to fight domestic violence by directing them elsewhere.
Under LePage, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services failed to investigate the deaths of all 133 people with developmental disabilities who died between January 2013 and June 2015 while under the care of community-based providers. In addition, DHHS investigated only five of the 296 reports it received of suspected sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of developmentally disabled people.
One of Maine’s two state-run mental health hospitals lost its credentials during LePage’s administration, and the state now owes the millions to the federal government. LePage denied more than 70,000 people in Maine health care coverage for years even after the Maine people voted to enact it.
LePage signed an executive order directing the DHHS to divert funding from mental health services, public health and a program to help low-income seniors buy medicine. LePage simultaneously denied housing to low-income seniors by refusing to enact bonds voted on by the people.
This is just a partial list of the devastation LePage caused. He likes to spin a fictitious story of a great legacy, but the facts reveal the miserable truth.
Cheryl Golek of Harpswell is a political advocate.