Republican Morality

LePage sends welfare cash to after-school programs to curb ‘out-of-wedlock pregnancies’
By Matthew Stone, Bangor Daily News
January 4, 2018

This school year, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is spending $1.7 million on after-school programs that once would have gone to low-income families with children in the form of cash assistance.

The administration has described the change as a way to “better support our youth,” but anti-poverty program experts decried it as an ineffective way to keep kids clothed and fed at a time when the rate of Maine children living in deep poverty has been rising.

“After-school programs don’t pay the rent, and they don’t keep kids in underwear. They don’t keep the parents in underwear,” said Luke Shaefer, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan and coauthor of the book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.”

A BDN review of state contracting documents shows more than a dozen nonprofit organizations are receiving more than $1.7 million this school year from the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, grant. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has awarded more than 80 percent of the funds without using the state’s formal competitive bidding process, the documents show.

Grifters gotta Grift.

But the after-school programs account for less than 2 percent of the LePage administration’s reworked spending of the $78.1 million TANF grant the state receives each year. Instead, the administration is tapping much of the unused federal funding so it can avoid using state taxpayer funds.

A BDN review in June showed the state planned to spend most of the funds — after paying for cash benefits for the remaining TANF beneficiaries, employment services and administrative expenses — on pre-existing state social service obligations to free up the state funds normally devoted to those expenses. Those expenses accounted for a third of the LePage administration’s planned TANF spending for this fiscal year.

A DHHS spokeswoman didn’t directly address questions from the BDN about how the department ensured it was supporting the highest-quality after-school programs with TANF, the number of children served by the after-school programs receiving TANF funds, the number of kids who wouldn’t be able to participate in after-school programs if not for the TANF funding, and the analysis DHHS used to decide how it would spend the state’s TANF grant.

“DHHS is committed to helping families and youth,” DHHS spokeswoman Emily Spencer wrote in an email. “Before and after school programming is a proven strategy to help boost academic performance and reduce risky behaviors. We encourage innovative, community based programming that keeps our youth engaged and away from behaviors that can have negative consequences which can follow them for a lifetime. These programs meet the goals of TANF and, more importantly, they keep kids off the streets — safe and engaged in positive behaviors.”

In response to its request for youth program proposals, DHHS didn’t receive many bids from outside of southern Maine, so the department has awarded more than 80 percent of the funds for after-school programs without using the state’s formal, competitive bidding process, according to state contracting documents.

That’s how Fair Haven Camps in the rural Waldo County town of Brooks became the site of one of the TANF-funded after-school programs.

In the summer, Fair Haven Camps is a Christian overnight camp. This fall, for the first time, it welcomed 17 students from Mount View Middle School in nearby Thorndike after school each day for outdoor activities in wilderness survival, arts and crafts, and lessons in financial literacy provided by volunteers from Bangor Savings Bank.

A “Charitable Choice” provision that applies to the 1996 federal law that created TANF allows states to issue public funds to religious organizations such as Fair Haven Camps as long as the organizations don’t use those funds to pay for what federal regulations label “inherently religious activities.”

The proportion of Maine children living in deep poverty — with family incomes of half the federal poverty level or less — grew 1.1 percentage points between 2011 and 2015, to 8 percent, while it grew 0.2 percentage points nationally, to 9.5 percent, according to calculations from the Maine Center for Economic Policy that used three-year averages from U.S. Census data to calculate poverty rates.

Research available on safety net programs that bolster family income — the sort of assistance that has ended for the more than 8,000 Maine families since 2012 — shows that they contribute to improved school performance for the children in those families as well as improved health and long-term earning power.

Which is hungrier, my stomach or my soul? Hot dog!