Relocation of DHHS office draws opposition

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Democrats and advocates for social service agencies in Portland are protesting the proposed new location for the Department of Health and Human Services in Cumberland County.

The Governor’s office says moving and consolidating the offices of DHHS and the Department of Labor in 2015 will save $14 million dollars, but opponents say the new building will be hard to access for the most needy. DHHS’s current location is on Marginal Way in Portland, within walking distance of a number of other social services. The new location would be 4 miles away, on property next to the Portland Jetport.

A METRO bus stops at the Jetport, but opponents of this move say it will take 40 minutes to ride each way from downtown and cost $3 round trip. That’s advocates held a news conference, march and bus ride to call on the governor to reverse the decision. Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) said, “I think this administration has shown over and over that they try to make services being delivered to Maine’s most neediest harder… This administration has a war on the poor, and this is another prime example of it.”

The Department of Administrative and Financial Services says this move is necessary to save the state money, while providing access to all those who need it in Cumberland County.

Two-thirds of DHHS clients in the area are from outside Portland, and the state wanted a place with ample parking, and access to major highways as well as public transportation.The old building, according to Sawin Millett, Commissioner of Administrative and Financial Services, was no longer an option because the owner was going to raise the lease price, and the state couldn’t even afford the current one.

ELC Management would build and lease an 80-thousand square foot building to house both DHHS and the Department of Labor, and Millett, says that consolidation will make it easier for those receiving welfare to get help finding work, too.

Millet said, “We have a golden opportunity to bring together the two departments in a much more appropriate space with a reduction in the cost and much more opportunities for future return to the workforce for those who find themselves in need of temporary assistance.”

Governor LePage also sent a statement, which reads, in part: “Two-thirds of the people that visit the current offices come from outside the City of Portland. Providing adequate parking is important for these offices. Finally, public transportation provides sustainability to communities like Portland and South Portland. That’s why we dedicate a significant municipal, state, and federal resources to public transportation.

With these resources, public officials design bus routes to accommodate the needs of their customers. This is certainly something I would expect from folks in the Portland region.”