Oh, it's this asshole again


As we all know, ugly bag of mostly bile Maine Governor Paul LePage is no friend of the lazy poors (all poors are lazy, or they would not be poor, duh). He doesn't like the idea of filthy jobless losers leeching off the hard workers of the state and then having a bunch of babies irresponsibly, and he's been at war with the poor for most of his time in office. In yet another example of how far LePage's administration will go to fuck over the poor (who will stop being poor once they're punished enough), the Bangor Daily News published a major investigative piece Monday detailing how Maine's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has shifted money from a federal program designated to help needy families with children into programs to provide services for more worthy people, the elderly and disabled.

Wasn't that a smart choice to prioritize which group of takers the state would help? There's just one tiny catch: It's probably a violation of federal law, because the feds have this crazy notion that money allocated to help kids should go to help kids. Talk about Big Government Oppression!

We urge you to read the full investigation, which is more detailed than we can get into here (no matter how addicted to accounting stories you numbers-loving Wonkers may be). But here's the nitty: The Federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program sends every state a set amount of money each year, to be used to help support low-income families with children. In Maine's case, that's $78.1 million annually, regardless of whether the state actually distributes the money to needy families. Paul LePage has made a priority of cutting TANF benefits, and the state passed a five-year lifetime limit on recipients. Darned if that hasn't resulted in a surplus of TANF money! Yes, the state could help poor families more, but that would foster dependence, you know. Look, here is a handy graph to show you what's been happening to Maine's TANF payouts:

Chart by Bangor Daily News, Data from Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review

Maine's TANF caseload has also dropped precipitously since the five-year limit was imposed, from over 22,400 kids in the program in May 2012, to 13,320 when the limit went into effect, and down to just 5,195 at the end of May 2016. Isn't that terrific news? Maine is on its way to eliminating child poverty! Let's see the happy details, Bangor Daily News!

Child poverty is still higher than it was before the recession, and extreme poverty among the state’s children — those living in families with incomes at half the federal poverty level — has grown. The newly released 2016 KIDS COUNT rankings on child well-being compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation show Maine slipping five places in one year — to 17th from 12th.

Those are not happy details at all! But what about all the money that Maine is not spending on poor (and undeserving) children? The state has proudly trumpeted its "innovations" in social services -- last summer, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew issued a press release trumpeting the "savings" resulting from the benefit limit and the "reprioritizing [of] Maine’s welfare system to best serve our neediest elderly and disabled neighbors.”

Funny thing, though. While the federal law governing TANF does allow states a certain amount of flexibility in what they do with federal monies not disbursed in benefits, it's pretty specific about how states can spend that money. In short, it has to go to children in need.

The statute in question forbids states from taking a pool of funds earmarked for one population (low-income families with kids) and spending it on an entirely different demographic (elderly and disabled residents).

Oh. You'd almost think the feds saw the possibility that states might raid TANF funds for other services, you might at that.

Nevertheless, Maine decided to get extra creative with its TANF "savings":

In a federally required document the state posted to its website last fall and filed with the federal government, DHHS laid out its plans: Transfer $7.2 million from the state’s TANF grant to another, less restrictive grant account, the Social Services Block Grant, then spend almost half of the transferred amount on four categories of in-home services for elderly and disabled residents.

The feds do allow up to 10 percent of annual TANF grants to be transferred into the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG -- social services have almost as many abbreviations as the military!) but those funds still have to be spent on programs for kids -- like foster care, for instance, which is how Maine had used TANF surpluses in the past. Several other states use the SSBG for similar purposes. But spending it for disabled and elderly folks is verboten. The Bangor Daily News checked up on this with actual experts:

“Are they using the money for families with children under 200 percent of poverty? And if so, that’s legal. And if not, it’s not,” said Liz Schott, a lawyer and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who specializes in assistance programs.

“The statute pretty much says what it means. There’s not a lot of complexity to it,” said David Super, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in poverty and inequality.

Oh. So basically, Paul LePage's state agencies are robbing poor kids to pay for services for other, far more likeable disadvantaged people. How surprising! But don't worry, says DHHS spokeswoman Samantha Edwards: she clarified in an email to the newspaper that "no children’s programs are going un- or under-funded," although what she left unsaid was that those programs had been cut to the bone -- so the programs are "fully funded" at insanely inadequate levels.

Shifting money to programs the money wasn't supposed to be shifted to? No such thing, Edwards says: what really happened was a three-way shift: the TANF funds not used for welfare assistance went to other state programs for kids, then the state funds went to the elderly and disabled, yeah, that's the ticket. Except there's that darn document from the state website, and submitted to the federal government, showing the TANF money going directly to the SSBG and then to the programs for disabled and elderly people.

Edwards told reporters from the Bangor Daily News that was all a mistake. The state accidentally uploaded an erroneous document to the website, and sent the same thing to the feds, but for reals, they were following the real actual law, you bet. Maybe all that stuff about funds being reallocated illegally was a typo. Or a pun. Would you believe a palindrome?

In any case, the state's programs for elderly and disabled people did get infusions of new cash, which is a good thing -- we like people who need services getting those services. Sort of seems like maybe it would be a lot better if Maine actually funded all its social programs adequately so it wouldn't have to punish poor families with kids, but that wouldn't be consistent with Paul LePage's Grand Vision of eliminating poverty by alternating between shouting "NA-NA-NA YOU AREN'T HERE!" and "GET A JOB, YOU LOSERS!" at poor people.

LePage has tried imposing limits on what foods can be bought with food stamps -- multiple times! -- placing restrictions on food stamp recipients' assets, and he wants kids to be cut off food assistance if their parents use drugs, because children cause drug addiction we guess. He even spent $700,000 to ferret out rampant welfare fraud in the state, if by "rampant" you mean maybe 45 cases that merited further investigation.

Of course, now that it looks like LePage's administration has maybe violated federal law, and a newspaper has uncovered it, there's almost sure to be hell to pay, right? Hahaha, sure! Federal officials who administer TANF have even asked Maine to explain itself after the reporters started sniffing around. Unfortunately, federal restrictions on how TANF money can be transferred are weakly enforced, and there are plenty of bookkeeping tricks to make misuse of funds difficult to prove. The state has already posted revised documentation showing all the transfers are in order, and insists that's the plan it's been following all along, never mind the earlier documents and the proud announcement of the shift in priorities last summer. Besides, shouldn't the feds be out catching drug dealers instead of even thinking about punishing Maine for wanting to help the elderly and disabled?

If poor children want a little extra money for food, they could follow the example of Paul LePage's wife, who took a job waiting tables because Maine's governor has the lowest salary of all 50 states. If Ann LePage can get a job, so can poor children, damn it. And the shiftless little bastards better keep close track of their tips.

[Bangor Daily News / WaPo]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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