LePage’s sketchy accounting takes from kids, as he gambles with their supper

Gov. Paul LePage would hound a homeless person to the gates of hell on just the suspicion of fraud.

But his own Department of Health and Human Services is taking money from poor children at a time when childhood poverty and hunger are going up.

In the same breadth and in violation of state law, he’s putting at risk food assistance that mostly benefits seniors and families with children.

Kids are going hungry. They’re living lives of hardship. Maine is becoming a harder place in which to grow up. And the governor is taking from them.

Last week, the Bangor Daily News’ Matt Stone reported on the potentially fraudulent way the LePage administration — including DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew — has horded dollars meant for poor families with children and used them for other purposes.

It doesn’t matter what they’re using the money for — good cause or bad — just like I’m certain that LePage has no sympathy for the mother who shoplifts food for her kids. He doesn’t even have sympathy for an elderly person on food stamps who might want to celebrate her 70th birthday with a cake.

According to the BDN, not only did LePage misappropriate federal dollars for poor kids, it appears that the administration also falsified official documents to cover the trail or justify their actions.

What else is going on in the politicized, crony-filled Department of Health and Human Services? What misdeeds are going uncovered because the administration refuses to follow the Freedom of Access laws and turn over documents or because reporters spend their time fact checking the governor’s endless cascade of lies and false assertions?

If stealing dollars meant to aid kids with families weren’t enough, the governor is now so determined to punish poor people for being poor, he’s willing to put at risk the state’s entire Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Photo by Phil Velasquez | Chicago Tribune | MCT

Photo by Phil Velasquez | Chicago Tribune | MCT

The governor is convinced that folks on food stamps use it all for energy drinks and lobsters. There’s no evidence to back up his claim, of course. But with this guy, evidence be damned. He’s convinced.

So he sent a nasty letter to the Obama administration demanding the ability to restrict the types of food that can be purchased with SNAP benefits.

The federal government, which has never granted such a request, comes across as reasonable. I know for some that might be hard to believe, but long story short, there’s no evidence that restrictions are effective, the LePage administration has no plans to track results and there are no clear guidelines to determine what foods and products would be banned.

Democrats carry some of this sin. They were too comfortable going along with the ban idea last year, desperate to show that they are as tough on “welfare” as LePage.

But here’s the thing. Unless Democrats become comfortable ending SNAP and stealing from poor kids, they’re never going to be as tough. Because it’s not about being tough; it’s about being vindictive and allowing blind ideology to guide policy instead of research and evidence.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2013 in Maine’s Second Congressional District, there were about 58,000 households receiving SNAP benefits. The median family income for those households was less than $18,000 a year.

About 43 percent include elderly people and about 27 percent include children. That’s who the governor is targeting, seniors and kids.

Meanwhile, as LePage does his best to untie what remains of the safety net, U.S. Sen. Angus King unveiled three proposals on the federal level that would actually combat poverty and move people back into the workforce.

In an OpEd in the BDN, King outlined his plans: Expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, increase access to education for people living in poverty and streamline the federal government’s programs that work to move people into good jobs.

The Child and Dependent Care Credit helps parents rejoin the workforce knowing that their kids are safe. The credit can also help to provide quality early childhood education, which is critical to later student performance.

Education is the key to moving families from poverty into better, more secure lives.

And creating better coordination between programs with similar missions, while not sexy, is common sense.

Most of us — and particularly most voters — don’t live in poverty. LePage has built his brand by pointing at poor people, immigrants and people from away and blaming them for the woes that face our state.

Instead of helping people who are struggling, the governor offers nothing but threats, insults and, now, uncertainty.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.