The Empire Strikes Back: Brenda Harvey’s assault on MHPC’s Welfare Report
Even in a small state like this, it is amazing what happens to you when you dare to question state agencies and departments about the work they do. For an example, one need only look at how Brenda Harvey, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has responded to MHPC’s new welfare reform paper Fixing the System: Freeing Maine Families from Welfare Dependency, which was released last week.
The message from Commissioner Harvey? How dare you criticize us!
The commissioner’s assault on us began the initial news articles to report on our new study. In the Portland Press Herald’s first report on the study, for instance, the commissioner disputed a finding that was not even in our study, saying that “the suggestion that our budget has grown exponentially under the Baldacci administration is absolutely incorrect.” As evidence, she submitted that “the general fund, the state of Maine taxpayers’ money, for DHHS over the governor’s eight years has seen an 8.1 percent increase.”
Nowhere in out report, however, do we discuss the general fund budget of the Department of Human Services. The data we use to support our claim that welfare enrollment has exploded under Governor Baldacci comes from DHHS itself, in the form of the monthly reports it issues on welfare caseload levels. That data shows that the total unduplicated number of Mainers receiving benefits from the TANF, Food Stamp and Medicaid program rose from 226,000 in 2003, when Baldacci first came to power, to 388,000 today, an increase of 70 percent.
Harvey goes on to say “this report and the timing of this report (during the gubernatorial campaign) is clearly supporting a political agenda.” However, she offers no evidence–not one shred of evidence–to prove that MHPC has worked in cooperation with any political campaign, which is something the Center does not do. She simply makes an assertion, based on no facts of any kind, as is not challenged on it by reporters.
According to the Press Herald, the commissioner goes on to claim that the MHPC study “inflates enrollment numbers by including MaineCare, which provides state-subsidized health insurance to needy children and the disabled.” DHHS does exactly the same thing, however, when it includes MaineCare enrollment in the unduplicated count of welfare cases contained in its reports (The MaineCare numbers are in the “overflow” reports). What constitutes “welfare?” According to the DHHS; TANF, Food Stamps, and, yes, the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, are all welfare programs.
Harvey lashed out at MHPC again on Wednesday, suggesting in a Bangor Daily News article that “her biggest concern with the MHPC report was its distortion of statistics to create a misleading story.” Her evidence of this? The MHPC report, she says, “claimed Maine ranked second among states for households receiving food stamps.” “Harvey,” the paper reported, “said Maine is actually second in putting food stamps in the hands of eligible people, which is a big difference.”
It may well be that Maine is second in “putting food stamps in the hands of eligible people,” but it is also (and it is concerning that the commissioner doesn’t know this) second in the percent of households receiving food stamps, just as we reported in our paper. Our source? The United States Census Bureau, which issued this report last fall. In it, the Census reports that “among the states with the highest food stamp/SNAP participation were Louisiana (16.2 percent), Maine (13.8 percent), and Kentucky (13.7).” Maine ranks, just as we reported in our paper, second in the nation in the percent of households receiving food stamps. As with her charges against us in the Press Herald, her charges here went unchallenged by the reporter writing the piece.
So we’re distorting the facts?
I am fine with criticism of the paper, and we’ll deal with some of the other criticism we’ve faced in a later blog. I do have some concern, however, that a public official, acting in her official capacity, is doing plenty of distorting of the facts herself, including making baseless accusations and bald-faced misrepresentations of our report.
In so doing, Brenda Harvey has sent a clear message – criticize the Department and the commissioner herself will go on the offensive, up to and including telling outright lies about what your report actually says.
This is what we get from a DHHS commissioner who, according to MaineOpenGov.org, makes over 170,000 a year in pay and benefits?
Posted on Sep 27, 2010
As you well know,anytime you challenge social programs such as welfare or ddhs your going to get the lies. Harvey's pay seems extremly high for a state the size of maine,but I would still like to know how it compares to the national average for her position. They don't want people off welfare,in fact the stories about inticing people to quit their jobs and going on welfare is well documented and I'd like to know why they do this. And why is it that when person whosed worked all is life suddenly loses is job due to lay offs,injuries,etc.. they are denied the same bennefits given to those who has never worked. They always use the excuse a working person made to much money last year. I've seen and expderienced it first hand. And how many of the welfare recipients have just came into the state,because their bennefits ran out in another state? Its time to fix the system.
Posted on Oct 10, 2010
After reading the response in the Bangor Daily news by Brenda Harvey, I felt compelled to send in a letter to the editor. Of course, if you have a conservative opinion on anything, the chances of getting published in the BDN are slim. However, I had attended the meeting in Brewer concerning the welfare system and felt that MHPC had done their homework and had the facts straight. They weren't just mixing their opinion with facts like the newpaper editors do. In her response, Brenda Harvey came across as ignorant and arrogant, claiming that Medicaid isn't welfare. Perhaps MHPC should have included low-income housing in the welfare mix, but they didn't. I didn't hear Ms. Harvey complain about that. If you really want to open up a can of welfare worms, dig into low-income housing. I was a manager of such properties for 3 years and can tell you that is a system being gamed to the max. We need to get some responsible adults in our state agencies and that starts with a no-nonsense governor.
Posted on Oct 29, 2010
Brenda Harvey is an underling. She would rather spend taxpayer dollars on MI and MR folks than help other hardworking families trying to make s living. She is nothing more than a Baldacci bootlicker.