More than 300 rally in opposition to LePage budget proposal

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

March 7th, 2011 

For another week in Augusta protests continued against Gov. LePage’s budget proposal that uses a false excuse( the pension fund) as its basis to balance the budget. Members of the Maine Can Do Better Coalition gathered with hundreds of concerned citizens in the State House Hall of Flags on Monday, urging the legislature to adopt a state budget that puts the interests of Maine families and communities first.

“Maine families are the heart of our communities and the true engine of our economy. Unfortunately, Governor LePage’s proposed state budget destabilizes Maine families: from those with kids to those in retirement.By eliminating health care and supports for families the Governor creates a host of deeper problems that will be more costly for all of us in the long run. Protecting families during these difficult times is the best step to prevent unnecessary future costs,” said Ben Dudley, Executive Director of Engage Maine.

The proposals hurting the most vulnerable:

• Reducing the state’s share of General Assistance funding for large cities. This could create more homeless people.

• Giving the state 90 days, instead of 45, to determine whether someone is disabled enough to qualify for benefits.

• Imposing a five-year limit for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The most a TNAF family of three now receives is $475 a month.

• Reducing the income eligibility levels for a program that helps pay for prescription drugs for senior citizens. This puts the lives of seniors at risk.

• Requiring legal noncitizens to live in Maine for five years before they get food stamps, medical and financial assistance, and Supplemental Social Security income.

• Changing the income eligibility standard for Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level — $24,645 a year for a family of three. Those who are enrolled now would not be affected as long as they remain in the program. The current eligibility standard is 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $37,060 for a family of three. The change if implemented would mean a loss of federal matching funds. While the state would save about $8 million over the two-year period, it would lose $18 million in federal funds.

Much of the budget takes funds from important family and prevention programs while giving tax breaks to Maine’s most wealthy with lowering an estate tax and income tax. As someone said in the crowd, “he’s stealing from the poor to give to the rich.”

“The proposed cuts in the budget will have extreme consequences for the lives of thousands of children in Maine. Research clearly shows that the effects of deep poverty and homelessness on children are profound. They affect every aspect of their lives. Children who live in poverty are at increased risk of poor health and poor educational outcomes. They are more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems. They have more difficulty in school and will earn less than their peers as adults,” said Ellie Goldberg, Executive Vice President of the Maine Children’s Alliance.

“Governor Lepage proposes restriction and cuts to General Assistance and other critical programs that will weaken their ability to meet the needs of Maine residents who have fallen on hard economic times. Over time we’ll see more families losing their homes, more children going hungry, and more Mainers in shelters – like I was. We can’t let this happen,” said Marcia Frank, an advocate for Homeless Voices for Justice and Navy veteran who found herself homeless after losing her job and falling on tough economic times.

“Like many other immigrants, I have worked at jobs and paid taxes while working. I worked very hard as do many other immigrant people, taking all the overtime work available to me and working on my school vacations to support myself and my family. Like all immigrants, however, I get laid off from my job from time to time. Especially during periods of unemployment, my fellow immigrants and me need help to keep healthy and food on the table through the rough times. Governor LePage’s proposed budget would eliminate many of these benefits which are available to all legal immigrants,” said El-Fadel Arbab, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Darfur who relied on important safety net programs while working towards his U.S. citizenship.

These programs, like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, MaineCare, and Food Supplement, would not be available to legal immigrants under the Governor’s state budget proposal.

“Many of the initiatives in the Governor’s proposed budget will adversely affect seniors and adults with disabilities and represent irresponsible fiscal policy. While the proposals may yield short term savings there is no doubt that the impact in the long term will be devastating and will ultimately cost the state more,” said Carol Kontos, AARP Maine State President.