Missing Grant Money Drives Suit Against Maine’s LePage

Maine Gov. Paul LePage. (Andrew Harnik AP/BDN)

AUGUSTA, Maine (CN) – A nonprofit that provides job-training services to coastal communities in Maine brought a federal complaint Tuesday against Gov. Paul LePage, about a month after the brash Republican cut his constituents off from the spigot of federal aid.

“The current system is fraught with redundancies and waste, and I have tried for nearly 7 years to reduce overhead and administrative costs so that more funds can go directly to the constituents we are trying to put back to work,” LePage wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to the U.S. Department of Labor. “I will not continue to participate in a system that wastes money.”

As the group Coastal Counties Workforce notes in its Oct. 24 complaint, however, this principled letter from LePage came after the U.S. government sent Maine $8.3 million in job-training funding that was intended to be disbursed among the three regional career centers.

Attorneys for Coastal Counties at the Portland firm Murray, Plumb & Murray say LePage gained access to those funds in July or August, but then failed to redistribute those funds within the 30-day time limit prescribed by federal law.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 established a pipeline of federal funding that filtered down to job-training organizations at the regional level. Coastal Counties Workforce serves one of Maine’s three regions. It says the withholding of federal grant money by LePage and Maine Labor Commissioner John Butera is hurting their constituents.

“Governor LePage and Commissioner Butera’s actions are particularly harmful towards workers who have been recently laid off from paper mills and other struggling industries in Maine,” the complaint. “The federal government has dedicated millions of dollars to helping these workers and other deserving unemployed and underemployed citizens obtain gainful employment.”

Coastal Communities calls LePage’s dispute with U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta territorial.

On July 11, the governor asked Acosta to let Butera control funds for the entire state, rather than disbursing the funds among local areas and boards.

“Instead of the local control established under the WIOA, Governor LePage’s administration wants to take control out of local hands and consolidate it in Augusta,” the complaint states. “As Governor LePage has been informed by the United States Department of Labor, this is not permissible under the WIOA.”

Coastal Communities styled its suit as a civil action for deprivation of rights under Section 1983 of Title 42.

“The citizens and businesses of the State of Maine are best served by putting these funds to good use and not rejecting them for capricious political reasons,” the complaint states, signed by Murray Plumb attorney Kelly McDonald.

LePage’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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