Maine’s Governor Paul LePage (R) plans to move the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) from downtown Portland to a difficult to reach location in South Portland, a move that could restrict access to social services for many of the city’s poor.
The state picked the new location in part because it is accessible by bus. However, the bus route consists of 72 stops from downtown Portland and can take up to 80 minutes round trip. Additionally, the trip would cost $3 round trip, a hardship for many recipients already on food stamps or subsidized housing. While LePage’s administration argues that the new location will be more accessible for the two-thirds of recipients in Cumberland County who live outside of downtown Portland, opponents of the plan dismissed that argument. Anyone seeking services without a car would need to bus into Portland before beginning the 80 minute trek.
Senate President Justin Alfond pointed to the hardship the new move would cause for those that need DHHS services. “Moving away from the Portland service center hub will only put obstacles in the way of Mainers who are trying to get their lives back on track,” the Portland Democrat said. LePage’s administration has countered that the new facility, which will also include the Department of Labor, will make it easier for those seeking social services to find work programs. According to the Bangor Daily News, the current downtown location is within a half-mile radius of other services for the poor, including a soup kitchen and a career center.
Alfond also slammed the move as an example of LePage continuing to make life difficult for the Mainers who need help most. “Whether it’s cutting MaineCare, whether it’s the transportation ride system now, whether it’s general assistance being gutted every time the governor puts out a budget, this administration has a war on the poor, and this is another prime example of it,” he said. Beyond social budget cuts, the controversial governor has a history of insensitive comments towards the poor. He was rebuked in October for falsely saying 47 percent of Mainers don’t work, and in 2012 he lamented the “free lunch” welfare recipients were getting, claiming that “Maine’s welfare program is cannibalizing the rest of state government.”
Governor LePage is even coming under fire for the bidding process. After the state was unable to renegotiate a lower price for the current building, proposals were sought for a new location. While three proposals would have kept the DHHS downtown, the governor chose the location in South Portland owned by ELC Management. The company is owned by Eric Cianchette, a major Republican donor. In an interview with ThinkProgress, State Representative Dianne Russell (D-Portland) said, “The Governor is blatantly working to make it harder for Mainers to access basic services. The fact that he could be returning political favors to a major donor make it that much more unethical. It’s just unconscionable.”
Christopher Butterfield is an intern for ThinkProgress.