Maine has left nearly $2 billion of federal funds on the table over the past five years, according to a progressive think tank, which attributes half of that amount to a decision to not expand Medicaid.
The Maine Center for Economic Policy says it undertook the study to bring together scattered reports about grants not sought and available funds not accessed by the state. Center Director Garrett Martin says that in addition to the loss of Medicaid expansion funds under the Affordable Care Act, the state missed out on matching highway funds estimated at $196 million.
Martin says both of those programs would have required state funds to be spent to access federal funding.
“It doesn’t actually matter why we have chosen not to go after these dollars,” he says. “The real impact is that we don’t have these dollars and they are resources that can really make a difference.”
Martin says if all available federal funds had been accessed by the state, it would have created thousands of jobs and injected as much as $700 million into Maine’s economy.
But the LePage administration defends its decision not to tap those federal funds. Most of the money was in programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. Commissioner Mary Mayhew says it’s all still taxpayer money, whether it is collected by the federal government or by the state.
“Federal money represents tax dollars being paid by hardworking Mainers and individuals throughout the country and the notion that it is ours for the taking is ridiculous,” she says.
Mayhew says the state did not expand Medicaid coverage because it would have cost Maine taxpayers more to draw down the additional federal dollars.
But Martin says not all of the missed opportunities identified in the study required a state match. He says there are several programs in DHHS such as food stamps and some public health grants that are fully funded by Washington, and yet were never sought out by the LePage administration.
“In the instances where it is all federal money, you have to ask the question, why we are leaving that on the table?” he says.
Mayhew’s answer is that her agency is dedicated to setting priorities that she says are right for Maine.
“Chasing federal dollars for the sake of chasing federal dollars does not help to support that value equation, focused of what matters most for the people of this state,” she says.
Martin says he hopes the study will be used by the Legislature to rethink why they have not sought all federal funds that are available. Mayhew says her agency will continue to seek federal grants and use matching funds when it makes sense.