BANGOR, Maine — Representatives of Bangor area churches, non-profits and social service agencies turned out Monday for a rally and press conference in Bangor to call for reasonable alternatives to oppose legislation before the state legislature that would impose deep cuts on the state Department of Health and Human Services budget and the Maine Care program. The press conference held at Penquis CAP was attended a standing room only crowd.
Disabled and elderly recipients of Maine Care who would be directly affected by the proposed cuts were also represented and spoke at the event, which was sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine.
Avery Olmstead, wheel chair user and disability activist from Old Town said,”I believe in shared sacrifice but to me, this is not shared sacrifice. To be blunt, if these cuts are enacted, I truly feel that many people who are elderly and/or disabled will die as a result.” His statement was echoed by 85-year old Margie Higgins of Bangor who pays nearly $600 a month for medications and whose blind sister is on Maine Care at Orono Commons; Loren Snow, retired state employee, who has a disabled daughter and is on the Board of Food AND Medicine; and Maine Care recipient Cedric Long.
Jean Bridges, of Penquis CAP spoke of the devastating impact of cuts to Headstart and Maine Familes which would not only impact young children, but would cost hundred of jobs as well. Sandy Butler, Professor of Social Work at the University of Maine and Elizabeth Johns, Vice President of the Board of the Maine Women’s Policy Center also spoke.
Rev. Becky Gunn of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bangor called on the legislature to show compassion for Maine’s low-income community by voting down the proposed cuts, and like other speakers at the event, she proposed to address state budget woes by revoking tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year that was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor LePage
Small business owner Suzanne Kelly told the audience the proposed cuts would devastate Maine’s most vulnerable citizens, and in doing so would diminish the quality of life for all Mainer. She affirmed the need for fair taxes. “We are willing to pay our fair share… If it is more than what we are paying now, then so be it. Quality of life is a real part of our bottom line for being in Maine. It’s time for the top 1% of Maine’s top wealthiest households who now pay a tax rate 12% lower than the average Maine family, to pay their fair share as well”.
Peace and Justice Center program coordinator, Ilze Petersons. said the cuts would end up costing more in the long run, as they would send the sick to emergency rooms, where treatment is much more expensive than in the preventative, primary care programs and facilities that would be affected by the cuts.
Several speakers at the event called on the public to contact their representatives and senators about the proposed cuts. Petersons also said the Peace and Justice Center would continue to track budget developments and would continue to oppose any cuts to the DHHS budget.