SALEM TOWNSHIP — Gov. Paul LePage and members of his cabinet defended their plan to close a projected $221 million budget gap during a Capitol for a Day event Wednesday night in Franklin County.

LePage started by presenting his plan to the packed cafeteria at Mount Abram High School, where more than 100 people gathered for the question-and-answer session.

He went over a few highlights of his supplemental budget that seeks to close a projected $221 million hole at the Department of Health and Human Services. LePage is proposing closing the gap by ending Medicaid coverage for 65,000 Mainers, including the poor, elderly and children.

LePage pointed to charts he brought to show that there is not enough money to pay for the program’s benefits. The Legislature will have to find other places to cut to avoid ending the Medicaid coverage to the thousands of Mainers, he said.

“What I’m trying to do is to save as many people in the system with the money I’ve been given to pay the bills,” LePage said.

Many of the questions from area residents asked about what the governor is doing to curb welfare fraud, something they said could solve the budget shortfalls behind the current fiscal problems.

LePage responded by saying rampant fraud is among the major causes of the budget shortfalls. Maine needs to reform its assistance programs to stop fraud and reduce the benefits that are much more generous than federal standards, a difference that attracts people from other states who have exhausted their benefits elsewhere, he said.

“We are trying to do things to make people go to work,” LePage said, referring to programs he is pushing to help transition people from assistance to the workforce.

A woman from Strong told the governor she knows plenty of people who rely on the benefit programs, especially the home heating assistance programs. She asked the governor about why the DHHS directs people to other agencies when looking for assistance.

LePage responded by tying the issue to confusion about benefit programs in general, saying it is part of the reforms he believes are needed to streamline the system.

The governor repeatedly steered questions back to his supplemental budget plan, pointing frequently to the row of charts that sat behind the cabinet members and referring to his push for reforms to the system.

“We need to change the rules,” he said.

LePage also toured several businesses in Franklin County as part of his monthly Capitol for a Day event before the town hall meeting at Mount Abram High School. He stopped at NotifyMD in Farmington, Poland Spring in Kingfield, Stratton Lumber in Eustis and Geneva Wood Fuels in Strong.

Two legislative committees began taking testimony Wednesday on LePage’s supplemental budget that seeks to close the budget gap at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Through the years, the program has grown beyond what the state can afford to support, LePage said.

Hundreds of people gathered in Augusta for a rally to oppose the cuts, calling them shortsighted and hurtful to the most vulnerable in Maine.

David Robinson – 861-9287

[email protected]

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover contributed to this report.

 

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