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  • Proposed bill looks at how taxpayer dollars subsidize employers that pay low wages

    By Ramona du houx

    The House on June 5, 2015 gave its initial approval to a bill that provides greater insight into which working Mainers are in need of public assistance and why. The party-line vote was 76-65.

    This bill is about shedding light on how the taxes of the people of Maine are being spent. It’s important that there is transparency around how much of their hard-earned money is being used to subsidize EMPLOYERS... employers who do not pay their workers enough to live on. These workers in turn, must rely on public assistance, or welfare, to attempt to make ends meet.

    This bill is also about improving the lives of workers living in or near poverty. The prevalence of poverty wages and income inequality in our society is one of the most overlooked civil rights issues of our time. Women and people of color are disproportionately represented among these workers. More and more wage employees have to rely on public assistance, to attempt to make ends meet. In fact, here in Maine, as our economy gradually recovers, there ARE more people in the workforce, but more of those workers are living in poverty.

    As LEGISLATORS, we have the power to improve the lives of poverty-stricken Maine workers. Providing more transparency regarding workers being forced to rely on public assistance, is one small but important way we can start to do that. In shedding light on this issue, we will be able to evaluate the impact that the subsidization of Low Wage Employers has on the tax burden of already-struggling Mainers. I respectfully ask my colleagues to vote with me to support this measure," said Rep. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn, a co-sponsor of the bill during her floor speech.

    Under LD 1324, An Act To Create Transparency with Regard to Large Employers in the State with Workforce Members Who Receive Public Benefits, the Department of Health and Human Services would look at employers with at least 50 employees and report quarterly on the number of employees who are either MaineCare beneficiaries or the spouses or custodial parents of them.

    “It’s important that the people of Maine know how much of their hard-earned money is being used to subsidize employers who do not pay their employees enough to live on,” said Rep. Melaragno.

    Between 2009 and 2011, the federal government spent $127.8 billion per year on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for working families, according to a study by University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center.

    States collectively spent $25 billion per year on Medicaid/CHIP and TANF for working families for a total of $152.8 billion in state and federal funding per year. Fifty-six percent of combined state and federal spending on public assistance goes to working families.