Yesterday, the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) released a report detailing myriad places the LePage Administration has been leaving money on the table at the expense of everyday Mainers. The report shows that most of the money is being left behind by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), led by Commissioner Mary Mayhew, and would otherwise go to fund things like mental health programming and drug rehabilitation and treatment programs.
This lends context to what we saw in Augusta on Monday, when the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held a work session on proposed cuts to the Department of Corrections budget. For example:
- The DOC reported that there has been a sharp increase in drug-related incarcerations in Maine. Many people who testified yesterday stated that there are simply not enough community resources statewide to help people struggling with substance abuse disorders. Yet, despite the desperate need for community resources, the MECEP report shows that DHHS forfeited $3 million dollars of federal money that could have been used to help medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction, to put people on the road to recovery and not to jail.
- DOC Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick stated that many of the kids at Maine’s juvenile correctional facility, Long Creek Youth Development Center, belong in intensive mental health treatment - not in prison. But, Commissioner Fitzpatrick testified, there are not enough intensive mental health resources in Maine to help these children dealing with acute mental illness, so they end up behind bars instead. The MECEP report shows that DHHS – the department charged with overseeing mental health programs and facilities – has failed to spent $800,000 in funds available to help adolescents struggling with substance use disorders, and forfeited $3 million in available federal funds for youth mental health treatment and $4 million in available funds for the health and support of high-risk teen parents. There is no excuse for turning our back on this money, when kids who desperately need mental health care are languishing in jail instead.
- Despite a day full of testimony about the unprecedented mental health and substance use disorder crises crowding Maine jails and prisons, Commissioner Fitzpatrick testified that he has been instructed to cut his budget by 10 percent and that medical and mental health contracts were one of the few places he could do so. He therefore testified in favor of a $2,721,324 yearly cut to the DOC’s medical and mental health services.
The MECEP report, as well as the governor’s budget proposal that is winding its way through various legislative committees right now, leave us wondering about the end goal of all of these cuts and refusals. Fiscal responsibility is important in a state as economically fragile as Maine. But fiscal responsibility doesn’t always mean refusing to spend money. Passing up available federal funds and cutting the state’s budget for cutting’s sake - when that money could save lives, support recovery and keep people out of prison (which would save taxpayer money) - is not prudent and does not advance the wellbeing of Maine citizens.