Auditor: State agency improperly managed federal funds

October 19, 2016 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is dismissing as politics concerns raised by the Democratic state auditor that a state agency directed millions of federal dollars meant for needy kids to the elderly.

Democratic Auditor Pola Buckley this week notified LePage, Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills and several lawmakers that the Department of Health and Human Services “improperly managed” funding by using money earmarked for low-income families with children to fund contracts for the Home Based Care program, which supports seniors and disabled residents.

“DHHS had enough information to know that what they were doing was problematic,” Buckley said. “It was done anyway.”


Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Wednesday the auditor’s report was politically motivated. Mayhew released an August draft of the report that she says shows Buckley removed a statement saying there was no financial impact because the department returned the money to the federal government. The draft does, however, say the original transfer of the money was not allowed under federal law.

The department transferred $13.4 million of federal welfare funding to the state Social Services Block Grant program from September 2015 through June. After coverage of the transfer by the Bangor Daily News, the state returned the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money in July and replaced it with state general fund dollars.

In her letter to state leaders Tuesday, Buckley said the Department of Health and Human Services counted on being allowed to return the money if questioned, and that doesn’t “represent a valid system of internal control over federal awards.”

Buckley called changes in her final draft “minor” and meant to provide clarity.

The Attorney General’s office declined comment. LePage’s office didn’t respond to request for comment.

In a Wednesday interview on WVOM-FM, Mayhew said the administration followed federal law and returned the money after the federal government continued to not provide formal, written clarification.

Mayhew said the department is simply trying to maximize a federal block grant to help the elderly, and described the reversed transfer as “what you do throughout the year in managing” such grants.

Department spokeswoman Samantha Edwards declined to share more details about the agency’s correspondence with the federal government. She said both were in “constant communication throughout the process.”

Mayhew criticized the newspaper’s “constant attacks” on the LePage administration and said Buckley’s report was leaked before an election to deflect attention from ongoing welfare fraud investigations.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services didn’t immediately comment.


Democratic state Rep. Drew Gattine, chair of the legislature’s health and human services committee, said Mayhew’s response is “extremely concerning” and suggests a need for tighter controls on government spending.

Gattine’s fellow chair, Republican Sen. Eric Brakey, called the report “a very clear partisan move” by a Democratic auditor appointed by legislators.

Should the state “spend years and years waiting for guidance to come down while we have seniors that are suffering?” Brakey said.

Democratic state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, who chairs the appropriations committee, criticized the administration’s “mismanagement and arrogance” and said the transfer jeopardized $13 million meant to help children.

Rotundo said the “apolitical” auditor’s report suggests the matter’s seriousness. Rotundo said she hasn’t heard from state Sen. James Hamper, her Republican co-chair, about holding a committee meeting after the election.

Hamper didn’t respond to requests for comment.