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Republicans ramp up pressure on Janet Mills, Dems for nursing home funding

Left: Governor Janet Mills signs a document during a recent trip to Europe. Right, Governor Mills’ DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew gets her flu shot at a clinic for Maine DHHS employees.

AUGUSTA – Citing more than $30 million in surplus revenue from the state’s most recent quarter in addition to the funding already allocated in the previous legislative session, Senate Republicans are calling on Governor Janet Mills to take action to provide adequate funding for Maine’s nursing homes. The calls come after Mills has, for months, refused to provide the funding or allow for the legislature to address her objections to legislation passed with broad bipartisan support.

“It is clear that we have the funds to cover the costs required by nursing homes. All that is needed now is a commitment from the Legislature and the governor to prioritize these needs above others and use the surplus funds to prevent further closures,” said Senate Republican Leader Dana Dow.

In September, months after Mills originally refused to release the funding, the Governor refused to allow the legislature to recall the funding bill from her desk to “fix” whatever Mills objection was, though many still were uncertain her objection was valid.

At the time, Republicans called Mills refusal to allow the bill to be recalled from her desk “unprecedented defiance” with no precedent they could find. Mills’ response was that nursing homes were “ok” and that attempts to get the bill recalled from her desk to be fixed were a “political act with no productive goal.”

Senate Republicans are now pointing to testimony from Mills’ own DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, who testified that “You almost can’t be at a violation of the federal upper payment limit.”

That testimony is salient because the only articulated reason Mills has offered for her refusal to provide the funding is a concern that Maine would surpass the “upper payment limit” in federal law.

Previous reporting from Maine Examiner has shown that the language Mills cited as problematic in that instance was actually drafted by her own staff.

Republicans say that full funding for Maine’s nursing homes would cost about $7 million in fiscal year 2020, according to Commissioner Lambrew. They say that the newly announced surplus is more than enough to cover that funding and that they are calling on Mills and Democrats to make the funding a top priority.

“This is an issue that I have been very passionate about and we are finally in a situation where we can help these facilities and prevent further closings. The money is there, we know the costs. All that is needed now is the political will to do so,” said Assistant Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake.

News reports indicate that seven nursing homes had closed in the 24 months leading up to the passage of the state budget. Those nursing homes were located in: Bar Harbor; Patten; Jonesport; Freeport; West Paris; Bridgton and Fryeburg.

Mills has pointed to other state funding provided in the recently passed state budget as evidence of support of nursing homes, but lawmakers say that funding is required under existing law to maintain the status quo. “Under that status quo, seven Maine nursing homes have closed. Clearly, the level her budget maintains for nursing homes is not sufficient,” said Senate Republicans.

The Mills administration has been criticized recently for providing funding for welfare for non-citizens, climate change study groups and various other new spending but ignoring please for more funding for disabled Mainers, nursing homes and Maine’s roads and bridges.

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