BANGOR, Maine — With the future of Maine’s welfare programs uncertain and hard times still afflicting segments of the state’s population, one Bangor-based group is launching a campaign it hopes will create greater protections and more opportunities for the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Power In Community Alliances, a volunteer-based community organization in Bangor kicked off its “Dignity For All” campaign at the Bangor Public Library on Monday. The campaign, according to PICA director Tom Grogan, is aimed at achieving equality for all the city’s residents in all facets of community life.
“We believe that all people in our community should have civil rights, equal rights on the job, equal treatment by police and the courts, access to essential medical, educational and social services, and the right to be treated with dignity,” reads the group’s statement of principle.
Grogan said the group plans to achieve its goal by partnering with area churches, community organizations and civic groups.
Monday’s event featured guest speakers from social service organizations throughout the state. It was open to members of the news media and residents interested in volunteering. The event was also a chance for PICA to begin gathering 10,000 signatures endorsing its principle.
After the signatures are collected, Grogan said, they will be delivered to city councilors in Bangor and surrounding municipalities. The group hopes the signatures will force a re-evaluation of local government policies and procedures to reflect PICA’s principle of equality and dignity for all.
Many of the guest speakers Monday voiced their concerns that Gov. Paul LePage’s recent budget proposals neglect Maine’s low-income workers and others receiving some form of welfare benefits.
Though LePage’s two-year spending plan totals $6.1 billion, which is roughly $300 million more than the current budget, the administration is proposing long-term changes in an effort to curtail spending on some state welfare programs. For instance, one proposal would place a five-year lifetime limit on benefits, and another would require legal non-citizens to live in Maine for five years before being eligible to receive benefits.
“Those with low incomes are being misrepresented with false information and stereotypes and it’s leading to misguided policies in Augusta,” said Ana Hicks, a senior policy analyst with the Maine Equal Justice Partners. “Unfortunately, the governor’s budget calls for changes to the TANF program which are clearly responding to the misperceptions about the program.”
Grogan and others said Monday that much of PICA’s work in Bangor will be dedicated to reversing what they called the “vilifying” of those who receive welfare benefits. Instead, Grogan said, the group will try to push for better services and greater funding in the Bangor area with the purpose of “making an investment in the people.”
He said, “This is not all about money. We need to recommit ourselves and find more creative ways to help people in need. There are so many different ways to help — be it volunteer programs, mentoring or better education. This campaign is about people.”