EDITORIALS

LePage’s budget diverts problems, abandons those left to solve them

Posted Feb. 24, 2017, at 7:43 a.m.

Life is difficult already for someone living with a low income and trying to get by with the help of even a minimal amount of government assistance. Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal for a new, two-year state budget starts from a place of making life even more difficult for that person.

If you’re a single parent with one child making $16,000 per year — working 30 hours per week at about $10.25 per hour — you’d lose your MaineCare health coverage under LePage’s budget. If you and your family live in an area of the state where even low-wage jobs are few and far between, and you’re trying to get back on your feet again with the help of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, your small amount of cash assistance would run out after three years under LePage’s budget proposal instead of five.

Say, then, you’ve lost your MaineCare coverage, and your small amount of TANF assistance has dried up. What do you do?

One of the only places left to go is to city hall or the local town office to apply for General Assistance — the last-resort source of help that’s available for those in a pinch, who need help paying for housing lest they be evicted, the electric bill lest they be disconnected and for prescription medications lest they risk a chronic disease flare-up.

But under the LePage budget proposal, all state funding to help cities pay for General Assistance also will disappear.

Keep in mind that cities and towns across the state already have been helping people left in the lurch by past LePage-backed cuts. Those cuts have resulted in thousands of low-income people losing MaineCare coverage and thousands of people losing their help through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

In 2016, for example, the city of Bangor issued $126,000 in General Assistance vouchers to families who lost help through TANF, Rindy Fogler, Bangor’s community services program manager, told lawmakers Wednesday during a public hearing on LePage’s budget proposal. Since the state eliminated MaineCare coverage for low-income adults without children and some parents on Jan. 1, 2014, Fogler said, Bangor’s General Assistance spending on prescription drugs has essentially quadrupled.

Before the state cut off MaineCare to about 25,000 parents and adults without kids, Bangor issued $4,000 per month in General Assistance vouchers for prescription medications. Today, that figure is $15,000 to $18,000 per month, according to Fogler.

“You can say it was a cost savings in Maine, but clearly it was a cost shift to municipalities,” she said.

Fortunately, the state has still been helping Bangor and other cities pay their General Assistance bills — thanks to the intervention of legislators who have resisted past LePage efforts to cut General Assistance funding.

Now, however, as the LePage administration attempts to cut even more state help for people struggling to get by, the governor also wants to withdraw the state entirely from the source of help they’ll inevitably turn to when they have no other options.

“The state needs to be a partner in assisting its neediest residents,” Sue Charron, director of social services for the city of Lewiston, said during Wednesday’s budget hearing. “The state needs to be part of the solution.”

The LePage administration is making sure that cities and towns can’t count on the state to be a partner. The state, under the LePage administration’s management, is instead going out of its way to cause more problems for the state’s neediest — and then pull the rug out from underneath those trying to help them.

The LePage budget, with its thoughtless and unnecessary cuts to social services, clearly isn’t part of any solution. Lawmakers would do well to work from a different starting point altogether.

 

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