Written by David Carkhuff
Hailed for holding the line on MaineCare expansion, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew won the Freedom and Opportunity Award from a conservative group Tuesday.
Maine Heritage Policy Center board member Jinger Duryea introduced Mayhew and said, "If you've seen her name in the news a lot lately, it's because Ms. Mayhew has been on the front lines of many of Maine's most significant and important policy debates over the last three years."
Initiatives at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services are reducing costs and improving health in MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, according to the center, which championed Republicans' successful push to halt MaineCare expansion under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
On Tuesday at the center's Portland event, Gov. Paul LePage gave an introductory speech (delivered only to paying attendees at the luncheon), which previewed some of Mayhew's efforts.
"Just last week," Duryea said, "Mayhew announced that DHHS will be restoring a requirement, as you heard the governor say, a requirement that able-bodied food stamp recipients work, volunteer or participate in job training."
State officials reported that nearly 12,000 people in the Food Supplement program are considered "Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents" by federal rules. Approximately $15 million a year in Food Supplemental benefits are provided to this group, the state reported.
Mayhew received the center's award a day before LePage announced a shoring-up of the state budget. LePage announced Wednesday that the state ended the fiscal year with a surplus, which brings total revenue reserves to more than $90 million. "Improved fiscal management and reliable revenue forecasting are contributing factors for the flow of excess money," a state press release reported. There is now a surplus of $39.1 million and an excess general fund balance of $9.8 million, the state reported.
In January, state officials revealed there was a $119 million shortfall in the state budget, most of which was caused by cost overruns in Medicaid, according to Republican legislators at the time.
"When you are bailing out the boat, you are not charting a course, and we and this state have been staring at a sea of red ink in the Department of Health and Human Services for more than a decade," Mayhew said.
Accepting the award, Mayhew said, "This makes it all worthwhile, every headline, all the challenges."
Mayhew said "the noise" of unfavorable news coverage is a distraction but that the overarching goal of the LePage administration looks toward "reforming a welfare system to break the cycle of generational poverty in Maine."
With a $3.4 billion annual budget and over 3,400 employees, the Maine DHHS has been at the center of fierce legislative debates in the past three years.
In March, Mayhew said that data submitted by DHHS to legislators, information she said was based on actual expenditures in MaineCare but did not make it into a fiscal report, showed that adding 100,000 new, able-bodied individuals to MaineCare would cost $84 million by 2017.
Democratic legislators and advocacy groups argue that the federal government, under Obamacare, would pay the lion's share of MaineCare expansion; but Mayhew argued that the state would still shoulder a significant burden.
"It wasn't free," Mayhew said of the federal government's commitments under MaineCare expansion, speaking at the luncheon on Tuesday, "$800 million over 10 years in state dollars that this state would have incurred if we had expanded the Medicaid program to over 100,000 non-elderly, non-disabled adults. If your foundation is crumbling, do you build a third story?"
Democrats challenge these projections and argue that the cost savings from health coverage outpace the direct costs. U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, gubernatorial challenger to LePage, this week issued a press release about the 49th anniversary of Medicaid.
"Extending Medicaid in Maine would provide healthcare coverage for nearly 70,000 Mainers — including approximately 3,000 veterans. The expansion would also stimulate upwards of $350 million in economic activity — including $250 million in additional federal funding — and create an estimated 3,100 jobs," Michaud said.
Michaud recently became a founding member of the State Medicaid Expansion Caucus.
The LePage administration has made paying more than $700 million in hospital debt and launching a string of welfare reforms the centerpieces of an ambitious if controversial agenda.
Mayhew told a story about an elderly couple whose 50-year-old son with Down syndrome is on a wait list for services.
"There are thousands of individuals, elderly and disabled, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are on wait lists for fundamental services," Mayhew said.
"We need $45 million in state money to resolve those wait lists, so yes, we felt strongly that Medicaid expansion was not in the best interest of this state and that the lure of federal money was not reason enough to chase after it when we have other priorities that absolutely, fundamentally must be core to decision making in Maine," Mayhew said.
Since 2010, overall MaineCare expenditures have been virtually flat, but the state's general fund expenditures have increased by 65 percent to offset the loss of over $600 million in federal stimulus funding, the Maine DHHS reported. The state, Mayhew said, cannot afford to overextend itself.
"It is about dispelling the myth that you can be all things to all people," Mayhew said. "And when it comes to government spending it is acknowledging that if you spend as though everything were a priority, then in fact nothing is a priority. ... We cannot sustain a government that fails to live within its means and is robbing the economic prosperity and opportunities of generations to come."
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, designed as a five-year aid program, became anything but "temporary," Mayhew said, citing another example of what she called out-of-control welfare spending.
Vocational assessment of aid applicants and partnerships with the Department of Labor underscored an employment-focused direction in DHHS, she said.
"Helping people get a job should not be and is not political, it's the right thing to do and I'm proud of all of our efforts," Mayhew said.
Using "state of the art technology" to process data and limiting abuse of electronic benefit transfer cards represented "common sense" reforms, Mayhew said.
Maine's DHHS represents $959 million in general fund expense for the state, based on the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Before being appointed commissioner of the department by LePage, Mayhew served as the senior health policy advisor for the administration. Prior to joining state government, Mayhew worked as vice president of the Maine Hospital Association for 11 years, according to her online biography.
Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 01:51
Written by David Carkhuff
Democratic National Committee Chair and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., campaigned in Portland Monday, taking a swipe at the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision regarding mandated health insurance coverage as part of a Women Take Action Rally 2014.
In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government may not force religious business owners and corporations to provide abortion-inducing drugs and devices and contraceptives to their employees — a 5-4 ruling that stoked anger among supporters of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and its sweeping employer mandates.
Wasserman Schultz, speaking to members of the Maine Democratic Party Monday, said the decision really affected "what kind of health care you get to have covered" and hinted that Republicans would use the ruling to further curb health care coverage.
"In the middle of that decision your boss gets to decide whether you can get access to birth control coverage. They are not going to stop just at birth control, they are going to push the envelope of the Hobby Lobby decision," Wasserman Schultz said.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, also blasted the Hobby Lobby decision.
"This decision says if your boss doesn't believe in birth control, they can withhold coverage for contraceptive services, it's kind of unimaginable that this shouldn't be covered under everyone's health care," Pingree said.
Emily Cain, Democratic candidate for Maine's 2nd Congressional District, said, "The election is 99 days away, and I'm absolutely counting."
Cain, a state legislator, is running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, who is running for governor.
"I'm running in a race where there's a stark choice," Cain said.
Her opponent, Bruce Poliquin, former Republican state treasurer, has said he is campaigning against an "over-reaching and indebted federal government that is eroding our hard-earned liberties and coveted way of life."
When the Hobby Lobby ruling came down, Poliquin said, "The Supreme Court ruled small businesswomen and small businessmen have choices in the insurance plans they offer and for which they pay. The Supreme Court has ruled the government should not interfere with someone's religious beliefs in forcing them to buy a product. I will not stand in the way of peoples' freedom in the choice of what they purchase."
Pingree and Michaud were among co-sponsors of legislation that sought to overturn the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling. The U.S. Congress, with Republicans in the majority in the House and Democrats holding the edge in the Senate, failed to pass the legislation.
On Monday, Wasserman Schultz said, "We need Emily Cain to join us because it is the women of this country, and it is the women in Congress, if we are going to get anything done and push past the intransigence and the stubbornness of the gridlock that we're dealing with in Washington, it's going to be because women come together and say, 'Enough is enough.'"
Michaud attended the rally but left early to fly to Washington to vote on legislation that aimed to "tackle the immediate systemic problems throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs."
In an interview with media, Michaud said, "I'm very pleased with the compromise that we've been able to work out over the weekend."
"I can assure the veterans of Maine that they will be very pleased," he said.
Michaud, who serves as Ranking Member on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, was a lead member of the Conference Committee, his office noted. He said the legislation would provide "long-term structural changes within the VA department-wide."
According to news reports, the bipartisan legislation, one of the few measures expected to pass a deeply divided Congress prior to an August recess, would authorize at least $17 billion in spending over the next three years to fix the scandal-ridden veterans health program, with about $5 billion of that offset elsewhere in the budget.
Staff from U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows' office were in attendance at Monday's event. Bellows, running against Republican incumbent Susan Collins, is participating in her "Walk Across Maine" and on Monday had already walked 130 miles of her 350-mile Walk Across Maine for Jobs and the Economy, her staff said.
In a statement, Bellows said, "The stakes for women in this election are too important to risk Republican control of the U.S. Senate. The fact that we're even debating access to birth control in 2014 demonstrates how extreme Republicans in Washington have become. A vote for Republican Susan Collins is a vote for Mitch McConnell and his extremist attacks on women's health and equality."
"Maine Democrats are unified in their vision of standing up for Maine women, their health and creating economic opportunity for all," said Mary Erin Casale, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 July 2014 00:14
Written by Timothy Gillis
The Ossipee Valley Music Festival wrapped up another summer in South Hiram, branching out from bluegrass but staying true to its root cause of making music accessible to fans of all ages.
The festival welcomes children under 18 with free admission and offers workshops, concerts and activities designed just for kids.
On Saturday, "Lunch at the Dump" was playing in the Dance Barn while the Stray Birds played on the Main Stage. Next up there was the Carper Family and Cindy Cashdollar. The Carper Family is Beth Chrisman, who plays fiddle, Jenn Miori on guitar, and Melissa Carper on bass. Cashdollar plays Dobro and steel guitar, and has performed with Bob Dylan, Asleep at the Wheel, and Van Morrison. The golden harmonies of the group wafted out over the afternoon crowd. The band was practicing what they preached. They ran a three-part harmony workshop earlier in the day. They toured the East Coast for the first time last year, roaming from their hometown in Austin, Texas, all the way to Bath, Maine. Sunday night, they played at The Barn at Friendly River, making it four shows in Maine in two years.
"It's beautiful here," Miori said. "We love playing Northeast festivals in summertime."
Later on, half of the Maine Youth Bluegrass Ensemble was jamming with parents by their campsite. Ron Cody, a mentor of the band, played banjo with his son, Johnny, a 10-year-old fiddler. Perrin Davidson, 15, plays banjo. Max Silverstein, 17, plays guitar and fiddle and fronts a trio called Maximum Blue, with his dad, Jeff, on mandolin. Finn Woodruff, 15, plays fiddle. Wendy Cody rounded out the impromptu jam session on stand-up bass.
"'Jammin' is part of bluegrass," Ron said. "Kids learn from hearing. This is the most important part of a festival, hanging out casually and hearing the sound. The youngest hears the oldest and learns. And the other way works, too." The group was playing the music of Bill Monroe, "jammin' on Bill Mon," according to the Codys, who have been at every OVMF. They didn't see a downside to the festival's move to include more than bluegrass.
"The core idea is still bluegrass," Ron said.
"It's a misnomer," Jeff added. "The term has grown to mean more than just bluegrass. It's Americana, folk. You hear classic bluegrass less and less, as younger players mature and blend in their own influences."
More family affairs were occurring across the fairgrounds at Stage Too, as Wide Open Spaces, with Peter Anick on mandolin and fiddle, got in tune. His son, Jason, plays violin and leads The Rhythm Future Quartet, who were warming up back of the main stage, prepping for their late afternoon gig.
The Rhythm Future Quartet is the younger Anick, Olli Soikkeli and Vinny Raniolo on guitar, and Greg Loughman on bass. Anick has played at One Longfellow Square in Portland, and last year jammed with Tommy Emmanuel. When he was a college student at Hartt Conservatory, he was invited by John Jorgenson to join his band.
Asked about the difference between the fiddle and the violin, Peter said, "It's the same instrument. The difference is the manner that you play." Jason writes a lot of music, and teaches at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
"They keep it alive. They're not just copying arrangements; they're making it their own, bringing it into the current century," Peter said of his son's quartet. Peter played rhythm guitar on Jason's first CD, called "Sleepless."
The Rhythm Future Quartet played Sunday in Cape Porpoise, and is slated for a show at the Saco River Theater in Buxton on Oct. 17.
Flop-Eared Muse, traditional folk music since 1967, is owned by Chantal Bastiat and Michael Bourquin. They had a store in Philadelphia for 25 years and have since taken their wares on the road.
"The hard part about what we're doing is finding an audience," Bastiat said. They have been coming to the OVMF since its beginnings in 1999. They have seen business drop over the years, as the festival has replaced "bluegrass" with "music" in its title and opened up to more musical types. The sheet music they sell is more sought after at pure bluegrass shows, they noted. They used to hit one festival a week during the summer, but now only manage half that amount, citing the cost of fuel.
"The economy still hurts at festivals. And they're feeling the hit in the South even more," Bourquin said. Bastiat, who is from Bordeaux, France, had a music shop there for 10 years before she came to the United States. In Philadelphia, she met Bourquin who was making dulcimers.
"I bought the building, and he came with it," she said. The couple prefers mountain music to bluegrass, but got into the latter in the early 1980s. "Bluegrass fans respond to the beats in between," said Bourquin.
Flop-Eared Muse is the last stand to close each evening, and the couple waits until then to eat dinner. They don't make the rounds of the famous campfire jams.
"If you enjoy something, don't make it your living," Bourquin said. "Even here, with front row seats, we don't get to see much music."
Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band played to the early evening crowd, taking them through "The Devil Went Down to Ossipee," with a bit of "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne and "You Are My Sunshine" mixed in.
Shupe reportedly was addicted to the Hokey Pokey, but "he turned himself around, and that's what it's all about." For their encore, they played a bluegrass gospel tune, "Walk the Walk."
Even though their several sets were finished by now, Tricky Britches, a Portland-based band, was hanging around to catch the other acts. Jed Bresette plays guitar and bass, Seth Doyle plays mandolin, guitar, and harmonica, Tyler Lienhardt plays fiddle and washboard, and Rich Bicknell plays the five-string banjo. Lienhardt said his favorite part of the festival was Jayme Stone's Lomax Project. Stone, a banjo player and composer, has brought together "some of North America's most distinctive and creative roots musicians to revive, recycle and re-imagine traditional music," according to his website. "The repertoire includes Bahamian sea chanties, African-American a cappella singing from the Georgia Sea Islands, ancient Appalachian ballads, fiddle tunes and work songs collected from both well-known musicians and everyday folk: muleskinners, roustabouts, sawyers, prisoners, homemakers and schoolchildren."
Margaret Glaspy, Eli West, Brittany Haas, and Greg Garrison joined Stone for the workshop performances. Lienhardt will play with a swing band trio called CC & the Two Lights at Mill Creek Park in South Portland on Wednesday, Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m.
On Sunday morning of the festival, John Barton, of Friendly River Music (est. 1974) was hanging with his grandson, Aidan, at his stand. Barton likes the shift away from bluegrass only.
"It's brought in a lot more young people," he said. Friendly River supplies vintage electric guitars to some of rock's biggest rockers, including Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, who bought seven guitars, and Bruce Kulick from KISS, who bought a 1956 Les Paul.
"Paul McCartney's producer bought half a dozen guitars," Barton said of Bradley Kaplan. "I closed the store for him."
Sandy and Donna Murray, owners of Raisin' Canes handcrafted wooden items, have been to every OVMF, and were unsure about how much longer they would be able to make the trip from Lyndonville, Vt.
"The sales have seemed to dwindle every year. It was a questionable thing at first," Sandy said of returning. "But it was a good festival. We'll be back next year."
Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 July 2014 00:15
Written by Staff Report
Described as "one of the worst cases of domestic violence in Maine's history," the deaths of a Saco family late Saturday night have been deemed a quadruple murder-suicide by the Maine State Police.
Detectives said 33-year-old Joel Smith shot his family about 11:30 p.m. Saturday night with a 12-gauge shotgun and then turned the gun on himself.
The victims are 35-year-old Heather Smith, and the couple's three children — Jason Montez, 12, Noah Montez, 7, and 4-year-old Lily Smith, Maine State Police reported. The two boys were shot to death in their separate bedrooms, and the wife and daughter were shot in the bed in the parent's bedroom, police said.
Joel Smith's body was found on the floor next to them, with the gun by his side. There was no suicide note found. Police have also not found any protection from abuse orders or court paperwork on the couple, since they moved to Maine.
The State Medical Examiner's Office examined the bodies Monday in Augusta.
The wife had told a family friend the night of the shooting that Joel Smith had threatened suicide earlier in the week by pointing a gun at his head, Maine State Police reported. There is no indication that any assistance was sought after that incident, police said.
Several neighbors told police they heard loud noises late Saturday night, but no one called police, according to a police press release. The family friend became concerned Sunday morning and called a maintenance worker at the apartment complex to check on the family, and that is when the deaths were discovered, police said.
The family moved to Maine from Arizona a couple of years ago, and Joel Smith worked at the apartment complex doing maintenance. Heather Smith worked as a medical assistant.
This is the sixth time since 1941 that four people have been killed in a multiple homicide in Maine, Maine State Police reported. The most recent case, where four people were killed, was at a Newry bed and breakfast in September of 2006.
Reaction to the investigation included a press release from the Maine Attorney General.
“The news from Saco over the last twenty-four hours is absolutely devastating,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills in the press release. “My heart breaks for the people and the communities involved. As we learn more details about the four victims, I am sure our grief will only grow. This horrific incident must serve as a reminder to all of us that threats of violence and threats of suicide must be taken seriously. Telling your boyfriend or girlfriend, ‘I can’t live without you,’ can quickly cross from the innocuous to the devastating. In the context of an abusive relationship, these utterances are veiled threats of violence, with a strong undercurrent of manipulation and control. Recognizing the signs of abuse — and acting upon them — is key to preventing future tragedies like this.”
Mills said anyone who needs to talk to an advocate can call a local law enforcement agency or the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence at 1-866-834-4357.
Last Updated on Monday, 28 July 2014 21:29
Written by Timothy Gillis
The Ossipee Valley Music Festival kicked off Thursday night, and one of the first acts to take the main stage was The Dirty Beggars, from Glasgow, Scotland.
The band, which plays Appalachian music, is in Maine for their first time and loved the scenic countryside on their drive up to South Hiram.
"It's beautiful. We flew up from Kansas City and then drove up here from Boston," said Alex Smith, their manager, while the boys were off rehearsing. "We're loving it so far."
The Dirty Beggars feature "their own brand of down and dirty bluegrass fused with traditional Celtic sounds," according to their website, www.thedirtybeggars.com. They combine guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and double bass to create "unique styles pioneered by Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch and the Dave Rawlings Machine." Their debut album "Bite The Bullet" was released in 2011. A new EP "Time to Reminisce" was released in November 2013 on the band's own independent label — Wayward Sounds Records.
They won't get to linger long, however, as their tour of the United States has them performing 16 shows in 16 days.
"It's pretty tight," Smith said. "We played at the Bluebird Café in Nashville and we'll be back in Nashville (later) to film for country music television."
The band flies out Friday to Virginia, to perform at FloydFest.
The Ossipee Valley Music Festival is a four-day gathering of musicians and music lovers, with more than 40 performers, barn dancing, music workshops, and a kids' music camp. The Songwriters' Showcase, sponsored by the Maine Songwriters Association, features some of the best up-and-coming talent from across the region. The festival includes the Wood Brothers, Willie Watson, Aoife O'Donovan (of Crooked Still & the Goat Rodeo Sessions), The Once, The Tricky Britches, and the Carper Family with Cindy Cashdollar.
The Ossipee Valley Music Festival was founded by Bill Johnson, in 1999, who remains amazed at its success over the years. It began as a personal quest to provide better music than the festivals he was attending throughout New England and the northeast region.
"I was fed up with popular music like most people. I went as far away as Virginia to see shows. Then I looked at these fairgrounds (in South Hiram) and thought this is the best place for a festival," Johnson said last year.
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 22:21