AUGUSTA—Top Democratic lawmakers released a statement after learning that another error by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has resulted in a debt of $4.8 million to a federal agency. For several months in 2011, the LePage administration erroneously administered Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to 70,000 Maine families.
“The Administration’s ongoing neglect of the law and mismanagement is costing Maine tax payers, said Assistant Democratic Leader Senator Justin Alfond of Portland. “As seen here, the Administration’s arrogant approach is harmful to Maine families and now it’s costing all of us.”
The letter dated September 24, 2012 was sent by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and says, “due to serious compliance issues” DHHS overpaid $4.8 million in benefits. Federal officials have offset a portion of the $4.8 million owed because the state had performance bonus awards that can be applied. The collection notice to the state totals $2.8 million and expressly prohibits the state from trying to collect the overpayment from Maine SNAP beneficiaries.
The letter in part also reads, “These issues have significant policy and cost implications for the Federal government, for the taxpayers that provide financial support for SNAP, as well as for participating households that rely upon SNAP to make ends meet.”
“We are relieved to hear that struggling families won’t have to pay the price for the LePage administration’s mismanagement,” said House Democratic Leader Emily Cain of Orono.“The administration must take responsibility for its mistakes, not shift costs to Maine people.”
According to the letter, the error resulted from state officials failing to follow federal guidelines in applying the “Standard Utility Allowance”—the estimate of a household’s utility costs used when calculating the need for food stamp benefits.
Alfond added, “This $4.8 million mistake is only what we know about today. Who can guess at what other ‘errors’have yet to be uncovered.”
Earlier this year, DHHS came under fire when in March lawmakers learned that Commissioner Mayhew withheld critical information about a computer error that allowed 19,000 Mainers to continue receiving MaineCare health care. Also, later this year, in May, lawmakers had to delay votes on a budget proposal because of a DHHS accounting error that led to $14.3 million in additional revenue for the state budget.
“We’re seeing a pattern of behavior from the Administration. It seems they’re in over their head,” said Alfond. “One can only hope that this money will not come from another state program that helps our working and middle class families.”