- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The Democratic candidate challenging Republican Gov. Paul LePage said on Thursday that he would create a new office designed to combat fraud and abuse in Maine’s welfare programs, as well as eliminate mismanagement within the largest agency in state government.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services would ensure that public assistance goes only families that need it, while preventing the problems and wasteful spending in the department that have occurred under LePage’s watch.

Michaud’s proposal comes as the governor gears up for a three-person race with independent Eliot Cutler that’s certain to focus on LePage’s efforts to overhaul and root out abuse in Maine’s welfare programs.

Michaud said LePage has demonized the poor and used welfare fraud to score political points, but has failed to take real action.

“Gov. LePage has decided that people who are poor are just lazy and blames those without jobs for their problems,” he said. “Though he points the finger at working families in accusing them of fraud and abuse, some of the biggest abuses come within his administration,” he said.

Among several things, he pointed to a nearly $1 million contract with a group to reviewing Maine’s Medicaid and welfare programs that newspapers recently found had potentially plagiarized or inappropriately cited other organizations’ works in a report.

Chief political adviser for LePage’s campaign, Brent Littlefield, highlighted several changes LePage has brought regarding welfare, including enacting drug testing for recipients with past felony convictions, placing a five-year limit on some welfare benefits and creating a welfare fraud hotline.

Many of LePage’s legislative proposals - including measures to limit the use of electronic benefit transfer cards for the certain purchases and out of state - were blocked by the Democratic-controlled Legislature last session.

The governor, who was homeless for some time as a child, knows more about living in poverty his political opponents, Littlefield said.

“He carries those scars with him every day. That is why Gov. LePage is so passionate about reforming Maine’s welfare system,” Littlefield said in a statement.

Michaud’s campaign said the new office would cost about $580,000 and incorporate some of the existing auditors and investigators within the department.

After Michaud’s announcement Thursday, LePage supporters rallied outside the Statehouse holding signs that read: “Welfare is not a way of life.” Senate Republican Leader Mike Thibodeau and other GOP lawmakers said the proposal would fail to bring badly-needed reform.

“Once again a Democrat’s answer to a government problem is to grow government,” he said.


Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin



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