AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The state Department of Health and Human Services says hiring a private contractor to take over part of a major welfare program will improve and expand the services to thousands of people. Maine DHHS is negotiating the final details of a contract for a non-profit group from New York to manage part of the ASPIRE program.

DHHS intends to contract with Fedcap Rehabilitation Services for case management of the roughly three thousand people on ASPIRE, which is part of the larger program called TANF.

ASPIRE has been around for a number of years, and it’s supposed to provide education and training to help people on TANF get jobs, to eventually get off welfare. But DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew says the state hasn’t been doing enough to meet the needs of the people using ASPIRE and says that’s why the department decided to outsource that work.

"Whether this individual needs additional medical services, substance abuse service, mental health services and employment training, educational assistance. All that will be coordinated by one entity with proven results," said Mayhew.

Advocates for the poor, including Chris Hastedt of Maine Equal Justice Partners, have raised concerns about the outsourcing plan. Hastedt says she is worried that some essential services may be neglected because of a sole focus on having people find jobs. Mary Mayhew insists the contract with Fedcap will provide more services than DHHS says it currently can.

It will also need more money. DHHS officials say the state spends about $10 million per year on those case management services, with the work done by department staff. The bid from Fedcap is for more than $62 million over four years. The Maine State Employees Association, the largest state worker union, says 51 DHHS employees stand to lose their jobs when the state outsources the case management services.

Commissioner Mayhew did not say if there will be any provision in the contract for those employees to have any preference in hiring for new positions with Fedcap.