PARIS — Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts, a social service agency serving Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, remembers the two-week shutdown in 1991 when he worked for the state as regional director of child welfare.

“We were told they couldn’t share (shutdown) plans because it would seem like the executive branch wasn’t negotiating in good faith,” he said. “And so when the shutdown happened, there was literally no one there to say, ‘OK, what do we do now?’ I hope it’s better. I don’t have any reason to believe it is.”

Caseworkers and hotline staffers were not considered essential in 1991, Yardley said, even though child welfare is supposed to respond to children in need 24 hours a day. Concerned about the children in care and lacking direction from the top, some workers stayed on the job without pay.

“If it wasn’t for the commitment of the child welfare staff that I had, (foster parents) were really left potentially in the lurch with children that were entrusted to the state of Maine,” Yardley said. “I’m not sure what’s happening today because I’m not close to that, but it’s a question I hope gets asked. It seems like a lot of the attention is on, ‘Well, will state parks be open?’ I understand the importance of that. But a lot of the things I just talked about the average person doesn’t understand because it’s all done sort of in the shadows.”

Yardley said he’s not so worried about Community Concepts during a shutdown. He said the state has assured him they’ll eventually get paid for any state-contracted work they do, and the agency has enough money and credit to survive at least until the beginning of August. But he worries about the people his agency serves.

“They haven’t been given the same assurance in terms of TANF and all the things they might also receive (from the state),” he said. “That concerns us greatly.” 

In 1991, he recalled, the state did not plan to pay recipients of TANF or food stamps. At the last minute, someone challenged that plan. Then-Gov. John McKernan Jr. and then-Attorney General Michael Carpenter ultimately agreed those welfare benefits were essential and would be paid, Yardley said.

“That is the ultimate safety net,” Yardley said. “If people don’t get that, they can’t pay their rent, they can’t buy food. I haven’t heard much talk about what this administration is going to do in that regard. But from the outside looking in, I don’t think the governor and the current attorney general have a relationship that would be similar to what Gov. McKernan and Attorney General Carpenter had in terms of working through that. That makes me really nervous as well.

“I wonder what’s going on,” he added. “I wonder what the plan is.”

The spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services referred all shutdown questions to the governor’s office.

The governor’s spokespeople did not respond to questions Tuesday.

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