Maine has 2nd highest food stamp “error” rate in nation under Gov. Janet Mills, must repay feds

Governor Janet Mills poses for a photo while on an international junket in October, 2019.

AUGUSTA – Under Governor Janet Mills, Maine DHHS has the second highest error rate among all states nationally for payments through the state’s SNAP, or food stamps program. Overall, about one in every five payments made by the state of Maine over the 2019 fiscal year was made in error.

As a result, Maine is on the hook to pay back the federal government for the mistaken payments, even as state lawmakers face budget challenges due to a lack of economic activity and record growth in budget spending after Mills’ first two years.

More than four out of every five of the “errors” in the Maine error rate published in a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Maine were over-payments, while less than one in five errors were underpayments, meaning that Maine paid out on far more errors than we underpaid.

As a result, the Mills Administration now has Maine taxpayers on the hook to repay the federal government in excess of $1 million.

Nationally, the food stamp payment error rate was at 7.36%, while Maine’s error rate sat at 19.12%, or about one of every five payments made overall in Maine.

Maine’s error rate ranks as the second worst in the nation, trailing only Rhode Island, which had an error rate of 22.66%.

Even other states run by liberal governors such as Maine’s Governor Janet Mills reported lower rates, with California coming in at 7.31%, New York at 6.3% and Michigan at 12.44%.

The error rates published by USDA do not cover fraud or potential fraud in the system and only describe bureaucratic errors made in payment amounts or eligibility or instances where a recipient was approved without proper documentation. That means any fraud in rate will drive Maine’s improper payment rate even higher.

The non-profit Maine People Before Politics pointed out that Maine’s error rate took a massive jump in Governor Janet Mills’ first year in office, likely due to changes in how Mills’ approached managing Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.

From the last year of Governor Paul LePage’s term and the first year of Governor Janet Mills’ administration, Maine’s food stamp (SNAP) error rate increased by more than 55%.

MPBP pointed out that during the time-period in question, Maine’s economy was seeing record-setting growth even as Governor Mills was expanding eligibility for the programs.

“We do know, however, that Governor Mills loosened eligibility requirements for a number of welfare programs during her first year in office, and this error rate may be tied in part to that expansion of benefit eligibility,” said MPBP in a statement.

In her current state budget proposal, Governor Mills has included language to pay back about $1.3 million to the federal government for the errors, says MPBP.

This as state lawmakers struggle with Mills’ proposal to close the budget shortfall after Mills successfully ushered in historic spending increases in the state budget in her first year, then followed that increase with another in her first supplemental budget following it.

Mills’ controversial proposal to tax Maine small businesses for the Paycheck Protection Program loans they received from the federal government as COVID-19 pandemic relief is another major sticking point lawmakers will have to grapple with.

Mills says Maine can’t afford to waive those taxes as the federal government and other states. Republicans have countered that if Mills had not bloated Maine’s budget, there would be no hole to fill and no reason to tax Maine’s small businesses to balance the state budget.

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