Funds for Veterans, regional economic development and making trade policies fair

U.S. Maine Rep. Michaud in his office in Waterville, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx
November 5, 2008

Congressman Michaud is no stranger to work. All his life he has been known as a tireless worker. His story is one that embodies the American Dream: a mill worker who witnesses his river being polluted, feeling a need to put the injustice right, he gets involved in politics and finds himself at the State House.In Maine, in the Senate, he had the reputation of being the first one at work in the state house and the last to go home. As a Congressman he continues to fight hard for the people he serves in Maine and sits on committees that directly effect what happens in the state.

Because of the nearly 160,000 veterans live in Maine the Congressman wanted to serve on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Soon after he first arrived in Washington D.C. he became the Ranking Member of the Benefits Subcommittee. Now he is the Chairman of the Health Subcommittee. He has visited troops in Iraq on a number of occasions witnessing first hand some of the difficulties they encounter.

Q You’ve fought hard for our Veterans in Congress, what would you say that you have done for them that you are most proud of?

A Over the years, I have worked to increase resources available to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and to update its programs. Most recently, I was proud that the Congress came together in a bipartisan way to pass a new GI bill that provides full, four-year college scholarships for our returning warriors. I also worked with my colleagues over the past two fiscal years to substantially increase VA funding. In fact, we were successful in passing the largest increase in funding in the history of the VA – $6.6 billion. This new funding will go to expanding access to care for rural veterans in Maine and throughout the country. It will also help fund improved research and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injury.

“Why can’t we have one?” was the question Second District Congressman Mike Michaud asked, once he learned about the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Michaud serves on the Economic Development Subcommittee of the Transportation Committee, and when they were reviewing the progress ARC had made, the then newly elected representative from Maine envisioned how beneficial it would be for Maine and the Northeast region to have a similar commission. Four years later the Regional Economic and Infrastructure Development Act of 2007 — a bill which contained the congressman’s Northern Border Regional Commission — passed.

ARC was created by Congress in 1965. According to the National Association of Development Organizations, since its creation ARC has reduced the number of distressed counties in its region from 219 to 100, cut the poverty rate from 31 percent to 15 percent, and helped 1,400 businesses create 26,000 new jobs since 1977.

Q. You created the Northern Border Regional Commission, which has been a breakthrough for economic development based on ARC.

A. ARC was a bold idea and it worked. I thought it would serve our region well using it as a model. This federal-state partnership was charged with promoting development in the depressed Appalachian region through regional planning, technical assistance, and funding of projects aimed at encouraging economic prosperity.

Q. What improvements can the people of Maine begin to see in 2009?

A. We have seen a clear and persistent pattern of economic distress in Maine and across the northern border of our region. The loss of manufacturing and natural resource-based industries and aging, crumbling infrastructure is of great concern to all of our communities. Transportation, basic public infrastructure, water and sewer, telecommunications, health care and business development projects can all be funed through this new commission.

Q. It’s projected that the Northern Border Regional Commission will allocate $30 million annually for Maine. When will the funds be forthcoming?

A. Passing the Northern Border Regional Commission was a huge success this year. Now that it is law, the next step is to get it funded. I have been working with fellow New England congressional delegation members to advocate for funding so that we can put it to work for our region’s economic development.

Q: What would you like the people of Maine to know about the HTWG?

A: The House Trade Working Group is a bi-partisan group of Members of Congress, who have worked tirelessly to oppose the expansion of NAFTA-style trade agreements. I organized and formalized the HTWG this Congress to give a voice to Members of Congress who believe that we should be promoting trade policies that are not only free, but also fair. The HTWG led the charge to stop the Colombia Free Trade Agreement which would have further jeopardized American jobs. We also helped to repeal the Administration’s Fast Track trade authority so that Congress will now have a say in future trade agreements. Many of my fellow HTWG members joined me when I introduced the TRADE Act, which is a forward thinking trade model for our manufacturers and businesses. We also continue to fight to reduce the American trade deficit with China and to ensure Chinese currency is not undervalued on the world market.