Issues, Policy & Public Education
MPRC on the Issues
Each year, MPRC works to develop a policy agenda aimed at advancing social, economic, environmental and racial justice in Maine. We support dozens of policy initiatives each year; below are some of our current priorities.
Access to affordable, high-quality child care and early education should be a right, not a privilege reserved for the rich. As wages have stagnated and more people have entered the workforce, the rising cost of child care is having a disastrous effect on working families. For many parents all over Maine, taking time off or working fewer hours to care for their children is simply not an option. This leads many families to spend a disproportionate amount of their income to cover the cost of child care and early education. Affordable child care is the key to lifting up working families and leveling the playing field for all children in Maine.
Parents’ access to child care can determine how many hours they can work, especially on nights and weekends, limiting their ability to earn more and advance their careers. As the responsibility for child care falls disproportionately on women, it also contributes to a gender-based pay discrepancy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston calculated that a typical single parent in Maine would have to pay more than a third of their income in child care costs to be able to go to work. Center-based child care can often cost more than $10,000 a year in Maine. Maine parents are having to choose between breaking their budget, being forced to cut back work hours, or settling for lower-quality care just to ensure that their kids have safe and accessible child care.
There is a growing awareness of the links between access to child care, parental employment, and overall economic growth. Employers rely on their employees, and employees rely on their child care. Child care is the literal backbone of the workforce here in Maine. When problems with child care arise, parents must scramble to find alternative options—or miss work to care for their children. For millions of parents, that insecurity can mean working fewer hours, taking a pay cut, or leaving their jobs altogether.
The lack of affordable and accessible early learning options also hurt Maine families. Research suggests that high-quality early education can improve high school graduation rates and future employment income. Early childhood education is central to supporting working families’ economic security and the current and future workforce, and it can significantly contribute to Maine’s economy.
Access to affordable, quality child care should be a matter of concern to all Mainers, whether they have young children at home or not. Everyone should be able to access childcare as a public good, in the same way that every child can access K-12 public education. Affordable child care is the key to lifting up working families and leveling the playing field for all children in Maine
The consequences of a criminal conviction can directly shape the lives of formerly incarcerated people long after their sentences have been served. Criminal convictions follow ex-offenders for the rest of their lives, depriving them the ability and opportunity to reestablish themselves as law-abiding and productive members of the community. In the last two years, more than 20 states have expanded or added laws to help people move on from their criminal records — most involve misdemeanors. Implementing a “clean slate” approach into Maine’s criminal justice system would allow formerly incarcerated people to move on with their lives, provide for their loved ones and have a fair opportunity to re-enter society after serving their sentence.
After decades of overcriminalization and mass incarceration, approximately 70 to 100 million Americans (1 in 3) currently have some type of criminal record. As background checks become more commonplace for jobs, schools, and housing applications, one conviction – and sometimes even just one arrest – can dog people for years, relegating them to permanent second-class status. “In the digital era, nearly 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges use criminal background checks” according to the Center for American Progress. For both adults and juveniles, past criminal convictions have long-lasting consequences that could impede their ability to find employment, housing, or return to school.
The barriers associated with a criminal record can have negative effects for generations. According to the Center for American Progress, almost half of all American children have at least one parent with a criminal record, which can have negative consequences on a child’s school performance, cognitive development, and job opportunities in the future. A criminal conviction does not only harm the individual, but their children, families, and entire communities. As a result, even a minor brush with law enforcement—such as an arrest without a conviction—can haunt someone and their family for the rest of their life.
A clean slate approach would allow people with criminal records to earn the second chance they deserve. It would allow a person’s criminal history information to be removed from easy public access, with the goal of improving employment and other outcomes for the affected person. A clean slate helps people move on with their lives and get back to work. Research from the University of Michigan finds that people are 11 percent more likely to be employed and are earning 22 percent higher wages one year after their record has been cleared.
The clean slate approach has wide bipartisan support. 70 percent of Americans support clean slate policies—including 66 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Democrats. Enabling people to earn a decent living also reduces the likelihood that they will commit another crime. That means safer communities, fewer people behind bars, and fewer taxpayer dollars wasted on unnecessary incarceration. A criminal record shouldn’t be a life sentence to poverty
Climate change is the greatest existential threat to the health, national security, economic prosperity, and future of humans and this planet. It is the defining issue of this era, forcing policymakers, advocates, and scientists to rethink relationships to and management of human and natural resources. The growing frustration of Mainers towards for-profit utilities like Central Maine Power (CMP) and Emera have created a unique opportunity for Maine to transition to a consumer-owned utility. A consumer-owned utility will be cheaper, more reliable and more responsive to the state’s need for sustainable green energy in the face of climate change.
Central Maine Power (CMP) is one of the least liked utilities in the nation, infamous for overcharging Mainers, poor service and erroneous billing practices. The company has a history of dramatically overcharging low-income Mainers who are already disproportionately affected by high energy bills. In 2017, Maine had the last reliable service in the country overall while also having the highest delivery rates.
The profit incentive for companies like CMP and Emera has led to wildly inefficient cost-cutting measures and unjustified price increases. Rising customer bills and poor quality customer service has led to lawsuits against CMP and public campaigns against its initiatives. These growing frustrations with CMP present an important opportunity for Maine to consider a transition to a publicly-owned utility.
Publicly-owned utilities are not a new phenomena; they have existed for well over a century and today serve one in seven Americans. Publicly owned COUs are funded by rates, not taxes. There are already a few community-based utilities operating in the state. Community members currently elect trustees to manage the Kennebunk Light and Power District, the Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative in Calais, the Houlton Water Company, and the Madison Electric Works — all of which operate under a similar consumer-owned utility model.
Unlike investor-owned power companies like CMP, a statewide, consumer-owned utility would be more responsive to the need to decarbonize the state’s energy grid by moving towards renewable energy as it would be subject to better public control and regulation. COUs are not just cheaper but are also more reliable than for-profit utilities. A locally-controlled, consumer-owned power utility will be able to take bold steps to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while at the same time providing lower-cost, higher-quality service to Maine customers.
Maine residents and businesses should have safe, reliable, clean and affordable electricity. Customers should be able to have confidence that Maine’s providers are meeting high levels of service quality, appropriately investing in their workforce and moving toward a 21st century electric grid.
Young college graduates are putting their futures on hold as they struggle under the burden of a global public health pandemic coupled with severe economic disruptions and high student debt in an economy that was already failing to provide recent graduates with good jobs. Student loan debt has passed $1.5 trillion nationally. Such widespread debt has many causes and the ramifications are pervasive, including a decline in purchasing power.
High levels of family debt also often cause an increase in other types of debt, such as debt incurred from credit cards and medical bills, due to an already too-tight family budget. The average student debt has doubled since 2007 from $10,649 to $32,731.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that outstanding student debt has surpassed $1.5 trillion and is growing rapidly – more than doubling in the last decade. In an effort to deal with the debt, families are forgoing or delaying important life milestones like having children, buying a first home, or purchasing a new car. A recent survey by the National Association of Realtors shows that among first-time homebuyers, 54 percent indicated that student loans had a negative impact on their ability to save for a down payment. While home sales have largely rebounded from recession lows, the percent of those sales to first-time homebuyers is down nearly 10 percent from historic trends. This lag in first-time home buying has the potential to drag down the entire housing market just as it is beginning to solidify. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York released its own study of student debt impact. From 2009 to 2012, those with student debt saw their rate of homeownership drop 50 percent compared to those without. The finding upended traditional thinking – that student debt signals higher earnings and higher chances of owning a home.
In Maine, the percentage of students who graduate from public universities within six years is 49 percent, compared to 56 percent nationally. At the University of Maine system, one-third of ﬁrst-year students don’t continue on to their sophomore year. There are many reasons students don’t start or ﬁnish college, but affordability is a major obstacle. Nationally, 60 percent of dropouts had no ﬁnancial help from family, compared to just 40 percent of those who graduated. And 50 percent of students who dropped out of college had incomes lower than $35,000, compared to just 25 percent of graduates.
Policymakers and advocates in Maine could make public higher education debt free in a number of ways: dramatically increasing financial aid, making college tuition free for all students, or finding creative ways for the public to pay off debt for students. Importantly, simply eliminating tuition for students does not necessarily eliminate debt, because of the many costs full time college students, particularly from low income, must finance simply to live and study. While the fiscal impact of these proposals will vary, lawmakers should articulate the goal of debt free higher education as an important priority.
The consequences of the failed War on Drugs have overburdened courts, overcrowded prisons, and ruined the lives of Mainers across the state struggling with addiction. According to the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, almost 2,000 Mainers have lost their lives due to drug overdose from 2010 to 2017. Over-criminalization of drug possession and lack of accessible treatment options have pushed addicted Mainers – who are in need of support, resources and treatment – behind the bars of the criminal justice system.
Substance use disorders cannot and will not be solved with prison sentences. Evidence shows that treatment works much better than repeatedly arresting and convicting a person for low-level drug offenses. Maine should not be labelling people actively struggling with substance use disorder as felons. Maine can’t incarcerate its way out of this public health crisis.
Policymakers must also be cognizant of the racial and gender disparity in drug-related incarceration in Maine. While black and white people use drugs at similar rates, the current legal system disproportionately targets communities of color. According to a 2019 Council of State Governments Justice Center report, black people, who make up one percent of Maine’s population, account for 21 percent of class-A felony drug arrests. Between 2008 and 2018, drug arrests increased 25 percent for women, with arrests for class-A offenses more than tripling during this period. For communities of color, women, and those struggling with substance abuse, the cycle of drug-related imprisonment – as a result of the overcriminalization of drug possession – must change.
Decriminalizing drug possession and expanding access to treatment and harm reduction services, in place of imprisonment, will divert ‘low-level drug offenders’ away from the criminal justice system and toward community resources, allowing for treatment and rehabilitation. Treatment programs will help those struggling with addiction heal and become productive and fulfilled members of society. Access to treatment and harm reduction services is an important step in reversing the devastating trends that have fueled the opioid crisis in Maine that has disproportionately affected those struggling with substance abuse, women and communities of color.
Several states have already amended drug laws to re-classify smaller drug offenses as less severe, opening up pathways to recovery that would otherwise be restricted by punitive measures. These services will be better able to target the underlying problems that can lead to imprisonment. Effective treatment programs can improve long-term community safety and reduce recidivism far more effectively than incarceration. As Maine’s opioid crisis continues, the current complex network of incarceration, over-criminalization of drug possession, and lack of treatment options have forced addicted Mainers behind bars instead of receiving the treatment they need and deserve.
Undocumented immigrants make important contributions Maine’s social, civic and economic life. They spend income as consumers and contribute to state and local taxes. However, they often face barriers to full inclusion and economic stability. Across the country, state and local governments have worked to deny undocumented immigrants driver licenses, citing public safety and national security concerns. If immigrants are unable to drive because of their immigration status, it will further impede their integration into Maine’s communities and economy.
The debate over whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to obtain driver’s licenses is a distraction from the real issues that states face in promoting public safety and protecting communities. Denying undocumented immigrants driver licenses solely because of their immigration status is bad public policy. It increases uninsurance rates and the number of unlicensed drivers, and it undermines effective law enforcement. Unlicensed (and therefore uninsured) drivers are also far more likely to be involved in fatal accidents or flee the scene of a crime. Eliminating the legal status requirement for drivers licenses will not only allow undocumented immigrants to better intergrate into their new communities, but improve public safety and economic growth for Maine.
Maine did not have a legal status requirement for driver’s licenses until 2008. At the time, President George W. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security had been pushing states toward more stringent requirements for driver’s licenses. Maine could have satisfied their requirements simply by adding a residency requirement for the license. Unfortunately, the Baldacci administration backed a legal status requirement (LD 2309 from the 123rd Legislature). In a year with painful budget cuts, it cost the state $1.5 million to implement. Bureau of Motor Vehicles employees—not trained in immigration law—are now forced to deal with the 70+ classes of temporary visas and immigration statuses.
Undocumented immigrants remain as vital to Maine’s social and economic fabric as ever–they just have to drive to work without a license or insurance. They provide important contributions to the fundamental drivers of Maine’s economy: fishing, forestry, and agriculture. From raking blueberries to picking apples to milking cows, Maine’s economy simply would not function without their hard work. America’s broken immigration system should not prevent them from driving to their job, legally.
Increasing access for driver’s licenses to immigrants, regardless of documentation status, makes Maine roads and communities safer. Licensed drivers become more knowledgeable about traffic laws, purchase insurance and register their vehicles, all of which can result in greater savings in automobile insurance premiums for all Maine drivers.
Family caregivers across Maine perform invaluable labor and service for their loved ones and society. Family caregivers work to help family members with their daily activities, including eating, bathing, and dressing. This work is valuable and important, but most family caregivers are not compensated for their labor. Many caregivers across Maine even sacrifice income they might otherwise have earned at a job in order to provide needed care for their loved ones.
As the state’s population ages, the demand for care is increasing at the same time as professional caregivers are retiring. As a result, Maine will continue to see a shortage of workers who can provide long-term care. Maine’s current system of professional caregivers is inadequate to meet the needs of every resident in need of long-term care. In order to fill the unmet need, Mainers with elderly or disabled adult family members often step in to care for their loved ones.
As of 2017, approximately 181,000 Maine family caregivers (almost 10% of the total state population) provided over 152 million hours of uncompensated care to their family members. According to a recent report from AARP, those unpaid hours are worth approximately $2.2 billion annually. Family caregivers also often face employment and financial obstacles in their caretaking responsibilities. They are more likely to reduce hours, quit a job, retire early or delay a job search because of their caregiving responsibilities. A September 2019 survey by MECEP indicated that 14 percent of private-sector workers in Maine had quit their jobs or reduced their hours for more than two weeks in order to provide care for a loved one.
These caregiving challenges not only lead to reduced income but also reductions in retirement security and benefits like health insurance. One study estimates that caregivers over the age of 50 lose an average of $303,000 in income, retirement savings, and benefits. As the complexity of providing care increases and other factors put ever-more pressure on family caregivers, the demands of family caregiving are becoming unsustainable for people to manage alone.
A family caregiver tax credit will help families who lose income as a result of caring for elderly or disabled family members. As the tax credit would be refundable, most eligible families with low incomes would receive a cash refund when they file their state income taxes.
A family caregiver tax credit would recognize and compensate family caregivers with low- to moderate incomes for their hard work and the value they create for their families and our state. In March 2020, the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Taxation unanimously voted in support of LD 1919, the Representative Anne Peoples Family Caregiver Credit. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kristen Cloutier, would create a new refundable income tax credit of up to $2,000 annually for Maine’s family caregivers.
Expanding access to programs like General Assistance for immigrants and asylum seekers will not only lift up those who are struggling to get by, but all of Maine.
General Assistance (GA) is a program run by every town in Maine to help people who do not have enough money to pay for their necessary expenses. Many immigrants and asylum seekers do not have equal access to anti-poverty and state aid programs that are available to other Maine residents.
All Mainers should have the opportunity to access important programs when they need it most, regardless of where they were born or how long they have lived in Maine. Immigrants are essential to Maine’s future and deserve to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.
During the LePage administration, Governor LePage consistently misled the public, using xenophobia to score political points in advocating for the denial of public assistance to immigrants. In 2015, he failed to veto a bill that ensured asylum seekers could access General Assistance, unintentionally allowing it to become law.
Despite the new law, Governor LePage continued to undercut the law’s intent through administrative means at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the General Assistance program. The administration’s policy was to mandate that asylum seekers complete the complex and often fraught asylum application process before they could qualify for the state assistance that most other people in Maine can access in times of need.
In 2015, the state Republican party also launched an effort to place a referendum on the ballot to eliminate access for asylum seekers. They failed to gather the signatures necessary to force a referendum.
In 2019, Governor Janet Mills announced an emergency rule change that made asylum seekers eligible for General Assistance funds if they can show they are taking steps to apply for asylum with federal immigration officials. This shift reverses the LePage administration policy towards asylum seekers accessing state aid and was made in response to an influx of asylum seekers in Maine during the summer of 2019.
By relaxing restrictions on general assistance, more asylum seekers will qualify for benefits such as food, housing and medication. All Mainers should have the opportunity to access important programs when they need it most, regardless of where they were born or how long they have lived in Maine.
Maine’s industries and economy have been tied to its natural resources since before statehood 200 years ago. In Maine, protecting the environment is critical to protecting the economy. Maine, along with the rest of the planet, is facing the greatest existential threat of this era; climate change. It will impact all aspects of life, forcing policymakers, advocates, and scientists to rethink relationships to and management of human and natural resources.
Maine faces three overlapping crises: the coronavirus pandemic, extreme economic inequality, and climate change. Economic inequality has been expanding for decades, leaving many Maine residents struggling with sustained income stagnation and the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and housing. The economic devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic has made a bad situation much worse, leaving unprecedented numbers of Maine residents out of work, often unable to afford basic needs like food and housing. At the same time, uncontrolled carbon emissions push the world ever closer to irreversible ecological collapse. All three of these crises disproportionately harm frontline and vulnerable communities – Indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, the poor, women, the elderly, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the young, and people with disabilities. These are serious, systemic crises that demand a serious, systemic solution.
In 2019, Maine enacted LD 1282 “An Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine” sponsored by Rep. Chloe Maxmin. The Green New Deal sets a deadline for the state to transition its energy grid to renewable energy while laying a path for creating the thousands of green jobs that it will take to meet that goal. The bill also creates a task force that focuses on economic and job growth. Maine’s Green New Deal will also require that the construction of grid-scale generation employ a percentage of people from training programs, provide solar installations on newly built schools, and set the stage for a renewable energy transition.
Building on the Maine Green New Deal enacted in 2019, ReNEw offers a set of policy proposals to meet ambitious decarbonization goals with a just transition. ReNEw proposes building tens of thousands of new, carbon-neutral, climate-resilient affordable housing units, and repairing existing units and installing green retrofits; building hundreds of community health centers, manufacturing medical supplies, and expanding public education programs to train and certify healthcare workers; grow the local food system of small, local, environmentally-sustainable farms throughout Maine; manufacturing and installing enough solar panels, wind turbines, and storage to provide 100% zero-carbon electricity generation by 2030; building a large-scale public transit system and installing electric vehicle charging stations in order to achieve region-wide zero-carbon transportation by 2040; and creating a New England pollution cleanup task force and a comprehensive, region-wide recycling system. The policy package proposed by ReNEw will create enough jobs that every person in Maine who wants a job will have one. It will be financed by state bonds and the funds to repay the bonds will be generated by ensuring that federal funds disbursed to ME are not used for corporate bailouts but to finance a green recovery; by the new economic activity and the attendant tax revenue that provides; and by ensuring the super-rich and giant corporations pay their fair share in taxes.
Policy proposals to address the climate crisis have to be linked to rewriting the rules of the economy to build an economy that works for all working people. ReNEw recognizes that economic and racial justice and climate justice are intricately linked and offers a comprehensive structural solution.
Accessible and affordable housing is essential to the public health and wellbeing of all Mainers. Too many Mainers continue to struggle to secure adequate housing.
There are too many Mainers who cannot afford to keep roofs over their heads and who are spending most of their incomes on rent, leaving them with few resources to afford other basic necessities. Many low-income Mainers are often forced to choose between paying rent and other basic necessities like food or medication. High rents, frequent evictions, and a lack of affordable housing can, in the worst cases, push people into homelessness.
Across Maine, there is a shortage of rental homes that are affordable for and available to extremely low-income families. As of 2019, 29 percent of Maine’s renters were considered extremely low-income, with an estimated shortage of approximately 20,000 affordable rental units. Many of these households are spending more than half of their income on housing alone. Only about half of these homes available to extremely low-income renters were considered “affordable.” As such, low-income Mainers are more likely to sacrifice other necessities like healthy food and health care to pay the rent and to experience unstable housing situations like evictions or even homelessness..
As of Jan 2019, an estimated 2,106 individuals were experiencing homelessness in Maine. This includes a large quantity of single adults, families, unaccompanied youth, and victims of domestic violence. Without access to housing and healthcare, this is also a significant barrier to employment for many Mainers across the state.
Investing in affordable and accessible housing is crucial to not only improving the lives of those experiencing homelessness but to the overall health and wellbeing of all Mainers. Organizations like Maine Equal Justice have done great work tackling housing issues, specifically around creating a state version of section 8 to help clear the waiting lists. Everyone deserves access to safe and affordable housing.
Portland, Lewiston and Millbridge, as well as several surrounding towns, have become centers for increasing diversity through immigration. This immigration, as acknowledged by institutions as diverse as the AFL CIO and the Chamber of Commerce, has tremendous potential advantages for Maine.
To fully take advantage of those opportunities, municipalities with the highest concentration of immigrants must implement policies and programs, including Offices of New Americans to meet these unique circumstances. New Mainers are here to stay, and—because it is the 21st century—Maine is only going to become more diverse; everyone must learn to understand each other. While the state stands to benefit from creating increasingly integrated centers of diversity across Maine, local communities are best able to create and administer the necessary initiatives.
A recent report, “Citizenship: A Wise Investment for Cities,” details the many benefits of immigrants becoming more full members of their communities. Becoming a citizen, for example, typically brings an 8-11% increase in wages, stimulating job growth in local communities. Integration is the key to navigating increased levels of immigration. It’s time Maine moved to a proactive policy.
The National Partnership for New Americans outlines six key principles for immigrant integration:
- Strengthen pathways to naturalization and full civic participation for legal permanent residents.
- Create opportunities for immigrants to receive English Literacy, Civic Education, and Continuing Education.
- Expand immigrant access to labor markets and economic opportunity through strengthening workforce development, professional integration and immigrant entrepreneurship.
- Ensure that immigrants receive equitable access to services.
- Improve access to early education and care that secures a strong future for children in immigrant and mixed-status families.
- Support communities in creating a welcoming climate for immigrants and their successful integration.
The Maine legislature—in a bipartisan vote— appropriated $75,000 for a “Welcome Center” in Portland. That funding was then renewed. Maine and these municipalities should engage with other cities nationally to learn best practices and draw down resources.
Increasingly, local governments have recognized that investing in helping immigrants naturalize is money well spent. Welcome centers are important to the social, political and economic integration of immigrants. When immigrants become citizens, they make a deeper investment in their communities, leading to civic, economic and social benefits for all.
Despite the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community during the past decade, LGBT+ Mainers still face a host of challenges that complicate their lives, obstruct their paths to professional and social success and, in the worst cases, put them at risk of violence. Requiring training on LGBTQ issues for teachers, health care professionals and mental health providers is essential to better understanding and supporting LGBTQ Mainers while tackling discriminatory behavior and bias against them.
Anti-LGBT bias and behavior continue to be pervasive problems in K-12 schools. The lack of professional development on how to address LGBT issues has left teachers and support staff ill-equipped to establish LGBTQ-inclusive cultures or to identify anti-LGBTQ behaviors and harassment. Required training on LGBT+ issues for teachers and support staff can curb problematic behaviors and help them to identify and address bias in schools across Maine. It is incredibly important for teachers to not only understand LGBTQ issues facing their students, but are able to identify biased or judgmental behavior.
As LGBTQ individuals still do not fully enjoy the same rights and privileges of their straight counterparts, it’s equally important to understand prejudices within and beyond the classroom, and advocate for the advancement of their rights whenever possible. Teachers and support staff can build an inclusive, welcoming school culture leading to better academic and psychological outcomes for LGBTQ students.
Health care and mental health providers must also be requied to have trainings focused on LGBTQ issues. LGBTQ people — and transgender people in particular – face disproportionately high rates of mental illness, HIV, unemployment, poverty, and harassment, according to Healthy People 2020, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Because of stigma and discrimination, LGBTQ youth are more likely than non-LGBTQ youth to struggle with their mental health. It is vital that health and mental health professionals are well-versed in the unique challenges facing LGBTQ Mainers.
It should be made clear to all child welfare professionals and caregivers that negative behaviors and attitudes toward LGBTQ people cannot be tolerated. Training and education on LGBTQ issues should be integrated into the pre-service and in-service training provided to child welfare professionals and foster and adoptive parents. Teachers, child care workers, and health and mental health providers must understand that the unique issues LGBTQ Mainers nagivate through, and that they are entitled to safety, respect and dignity.
Transportation is one of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of Maine’s health care system. Access to reliable transportation is critical to the health outcomes of all Mainers, particularly for low-income, elderly, and disabled Mainers with chronic health conditions.
When someone’s lack of access to transportation prevents them from receiving medical treatment covered by Medicaid, chronic conditions can be exacerbated. Missed or delayed medical appointments can lead to poorer health outcomes and increased emergency department use. No one should be denied access to care simply because they do not have the means to transport themselves. Medicaid transportation is a critical service for people who need to get to and from medical services and have no other means of transportation.
According to Maine’s 2025 Strategic Transit Plan, 72% of older Mainers live in communities without access to fixed route transit or one of the larger flex route transit systems. Older adults who can’t drive and don’t have access to public transportation have to rely on others to get to and from medical appointments and other daily activities, such as going to the grocery store. Additionally, Maine seniors are scattered across rural areas of the state, where they must travel long distances to a doctor’s office or clinic. The lack of transportation services not only deprives seniors access to their healthcare, but also their ability to meet basic nonmedical needs.
The expansion of nonmedical transportation (NMT) would cover a broad range of important services that often do not meet the narrow threshold of “medical” to help Mainers live meaningful lives. These services could include picking up a prescription at the pharmacy or driving to the grocery store. NMT services particularly benefit Maine seniors and people with disabilities to ensure that they have access to travel and can live meaningful lives.
As of January, 2020, lawmakers, state officials, and stakeholders are looking to expand Medicaid transportation services for beneficiaries. In particular, LD 1142, sponsored by Representative Chloe Maxmin, presents an important step forward in restoring coverage of transportation services to seniors and people with disabilities covered under Maine’s Section 19 program. This bill would also convene a stakeholder group to study how the state can more broadly meet the transportation needs of seniors and people with disabilities.
A strong minimum wage protects workers from poverty and forms the foundation of a fair, thriving economy. Maine’s current minimum wage of $12.00 an hour ($23,040 a year for a full-time job) is not enough to live on, much less raise a family or plan for the future.
Poll after poll shows that a majority of Mainers—from across political parties—support increasing the minimum wage. In 2016, a successful ballot referendum led by Maine People’s Alliance raised Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017. It was the largest raise in the minimum wage in 15 years. Between 2018 and 2020, the voter approved law continued to raise Maine’s minimum wage incrementally from $7.50 per hour to $12 per hour. It will continue to increase after 2020 based on the cost of living.
An analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that income growth in Maine in 2017 was concentrated among the lowest-paid workers. Maine’s growth among these households outpaced the nation and New England. The significant rise at the bottom of the wage scale led to Maine’s average personal income to grow faster than the national average in 2017. Overall employment and the average number of hours worked also grew in Maine, disproving warnings that the minimum wage increase would depress hiring and hours. The increases boosted wages for nearly 171,000 workers, delivering raises worth nearly $158 million. In total, approximately 28 percent of Mainers saw a pay increase as a result of the higher minimum wage.
Increasing the minimum wage also led to the sharpest decline of child poverty in Maine in more than a decade. In 2017, 10,000 fewer Maine children were living in poverty compared to the prior year. Maine’s decline in poverty from 2016 to 2017 was the largest in the country. As a result, thousands of children will do better in school, grow up healthier and earn more over their lifetimes. There has been no widespread negative impact from increasing the minimum wage. Employment rates were at record highs after the increases, and Mainers were working more hours and making more money than ever before. Restaurants and the tourism industries posted record profits and continued to add locations and employees.
There is currently a national movement called Fight for 15 which is pushing to increase the minimum wage to $15. The movement originated with fast food workers striking for better wages and working conditions. The push to increase the minimum wage to $15 has spread throughout the country, and since the movement began California, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia (approximately 21 percent of the U.S. workforce) have approved raising their minimum wages to $15.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would lift pay for nearly 40 million workers – approximately 27% of the total U.S. workforce. Increasing the minimum wage to $15 will put more money in working Mainers’ pockets, which they’ll spend at local businesses, growing both local and state economies.
The right to an abortion is essential to ensuring Mainers can decide for themselves if, when and with whom they start or grow a family.
The U.S. Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right to abortion in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and has reaffirmed that right in subsequent decisions. However, since 2010, the U.S. abortion landscape has grown increasingly restrictive as more states and muncipalities adopt laws hostile to abortion rights.
Anti-choice organizations and politicians are working to undermine this constitutional right until they can eradicate access to legal abortion completely. From passing laws to restrict a woman’s right to choose based on income level to shutting down clinics, the right to an abortion is under attack. When the right to abortion is endangered, the fundamental equality of women is threatened. A woman can never be equal if she is denied the basic right to make decisions for herself and her family.
In Maine, abortion is a legally protected right with limited restrictions. In 1979, Maine enacted a law stating that: “It is the public policy of the State that the State not restrict a woman’s exercise of her private decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability except as provided in section 1597-A [Maine’s young women’s access law].” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 22, § 1598(1) (Enacted 1979; Last Amended 1993). In 1993, Maine reaffirmed its public policy that a woman’s right to privacy must not be restricted except as described in the 1979 law. Right now, Maine restricts abortion only after viability (around 24 weeks), banning the procedure at or after that point unless the patient’s life or health is in danger.
In 2019, Governor Janet Mills signed two pieces of legislation to further protect a woman’s right to choose. She signed into law a bill that will expand abortion access in the state by allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants, not just doctors, to perform the procedure. The second bill obligates all insurance plans—public and private—to cover abortion if they also covered prenatal care. Before that, state Medicaid only covered termination when pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or endangered the patient’s life.
Every woman in Maine has the right to access sexual and reproductive health care when and where they need it. As other states seek to undermine and chip away a woman’s right to choose, Maine must continue to defend the rights of women and take a critical step towards equalizing access to their care.
A universal, single-payer health care system (often referred to as Medicare for all or Medicaid for all) guarantees quality health care for everyone. While providers of health care remain private, the system of payment becomes public, much like Medicare and Social Security. A single, government insurer would replace the many profit-seeking health insurance companies that currently make health care so unaffordable and inaccessible.
Health care expenses are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States and part of the reason for the high cost of health care is lack of access to affordable preventative care. At the same time that private health insurance companies pay their CEOs millions each year and make billions in profit, there are thousands of people in Maine who are currently uninsured or underinsured. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has improved parts of the health care system, it does not go far enough and profit still plays an overwhelming role in determining who gets care and who doesn’t. Private companies shouldn’t be allowed to make a profit by putting others’ lives at risk.
In 2002, the state of Maine commissioned a study that demonstrated a single-payer system would save the state money, even before the passage of Affordable Care Act subsidies that have made this approach even more feasible. More recently, in Vermont, Dr. Hsiao’s report found savings of between 16-25%, or as much as $1.6 billion by 2024. In Maine’s current, private system, insurance companies dictate to doctors what services they can provide, what drugs they can prescribe, and even how much time they can spend with each patient. Insurance companies make decisions about what to cover and what to deny based on the motive to make as much profit as possible. This is the worst form of rationing care: by what most profits insurers.
The reason Americans spend more and get less than the rest of the world is a heavy reliance on a highly inefficient, dysfunctional patchwork of private and largely for-profit payers. Private insurers waste health care dollars on things that have nothing to do with care: bloated overhead costs, including underwriting, tracking, billing, and sales and marketing campaigns, as well as exorbitant executive pay and an imperative to deliver maximum returns to private shareholders.
A single-payer system would mean that patients would no longer face financial barriers to care such as co-pays and deductibles, and would regain free choice of doctor and hospital and doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.
The U.S. has one of the most expensive health care systems in the world and Maine’s health care costs are one of the highest in the nation. If everyone has preventative and primary care, the need for expensive critical and emergency care would be greatly reduced. Public health care systems (like Medicare and Medicaid) have proven track records of keeping down administrative costs. Less money wasted on health care would strengthen our economy.
Raising taxes on the wealthy is a critical and meaningful way to address income inequality, generate revenue for crucial investments and projects and secure the resources necessary to build a more inclusive economy in Maine. A large share of society’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few families and corporations. As a result, many Maine families have less wealth and few opportunities for prosperity.
Effective taxes on wealthy families and corporations are a powerful tool for reducing inequality. According to a MECEP report, Offshore tax haven abuse from wealthy corporations has cost Maine up to $52 million annually. As a small number of families continue to accumulate more and more of societies’ resources, effective wealth taxes become even more important to ensuring all Mainers, not just those at the top — have opportunities to prosper.
Wealthy families and corporations are able to leverage their wealth in ways that many families are unable to. Wealthy families have the resources to invest in their children’s future ranging from paying for their college to providing access to capital needed to start a business. Declining wealth for the majority means fewer and fewer low-income families are able to provide their children with a similar leg up in life.
As of May 2019, most of Maine’s middle class and working families are paying a higher effective state and local tax rate than the top 1 percent of households. As wealth inequality has grown in Maine, the state’s ability to generate new revenue for investment projects has weakened, reducing the resources available to invest in education, health care, public services, and other investments that allow poor and middle-class Mainers to gain a strong foothold in the economy.
In the face of accelerating wealth inequality, effective taxes on high-end wealth are a critical policy tool for funding societal investments. The revenues raised from taxing the wealthy will bring much- needed resources to invest in public schools, health care, infrastructure and public services that build opportunity for poor and middle-class Mainers.
Maine tribes predate Maine statehood. For millennia before the United States became a country, indingeous tribes across Maine have lived and existed as sovereign governments. After centuries of genocide, discrimination, and abuse against indigenous communities across this country, tribal leaders and goverment officals at the state level are leading efforts to affirm, restore, and enhance the sovereignty of Maine tribes.
The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act of 1980 has severely undermined the sovereignty of Maine tribes by treating them as municipalities and restricting their ability to govern themselves as they see fit. Maine Tribes want the freedom to control their own destiny. Advancing tribal sovereignty enables tribes to be self-determining, independent governments with the ability to change and adapt their laws to meet their unique cultures and traditions and to govern their lands without external interference. When tribes have the autonomy to determine their own future, all of Maine will prosper.
Because of the Claims Settlement, Maine tribes have been denied the same rights granted to most other tribes in other states. From denying them the ability to fully govern themselves and prosecute those who commit crimes against their people to imposing state taxes, the state of Maine has curtailed the ability of tribes to determine their own future. The Settlement Act has also prevented tribes from benefiting from 40 years of federal laws designed to assist and support tribal health, safety, wellbeing and self determination. As a result, tribes in Maine suffer from disadvantages not found in any other state. In short, the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act took away the inherent rights of Maine tribes.
As of March 2020, there is a bill before the Maine State Legislature which would recognize and restore the sovereignty of Maine tribes. LD 2094 would ensure that the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians enjoy the same rights, privileges, and immunities as other federally-recognized tribes across the country. LD 2094 is an important step in the right direction for the relationship between the people of Maine and the Wabanaki Tribes.
Many studies demonstrate the benefit of parental bonding with children during the first weeks of life. A universal paid family and medical leave policy would help to make Maine a family-friendly place at a time when the state faces an aging population. Both employees and employers benefit when skilled employees can afford to take time off and return to work after birth.
Currently, many parents, particularly women, drop out of the labor force entirely after the birth of their first child, and don’t return until a decade or more later. Most never catch up on the lost earnings, and the Maine economy suffers from a lack of workers.
Half a dozen states have paid family and sick leave in place, and cities, from San Francisco to New York, are doing the same. Democrats in Congress are backing national legislation. Maine’s demographic realities provide an added source of urgency. In 2015, the state’s population declined for the first time in living memory. There’s a widespread awareness of the need to be welcoming to, and supportive of, families.
The US is one of a very small number of countries worldwide without a paid leave policy. Disregard for the economic realities faced by families puts this nation embarrassingly out of step with the rest of the world.
There are many ways to ensure families can take time off work to give and receive the care they need. Here is one approach consistent with other states and cities.
- Employers provide a minimum of 1 hour sick leave for each week worked, full time, to a maximum of 40/year (i.e. 1 full week), pro-ro-rated for part-time employees. This is in line with policies in other New England states. It can be used for care of self or family members.
- Create a fund to pay all employees for pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and long-term family medical leave. 12 weeks’ leave at 100% of regular salary, capped at a certain threshold. Medical studies back the importance of a 12-week period. For low-wage workers in particular, anything less than 90-100% of their salary is going to make this impractical. The fund would be created by contributions from the employer, and perhaps some from the employee. The employer would pay the employee during leave, then be reimbursed for costs from the state insurance fund.
These reforms are part of creating a twenty-first century social insurance system, alongside the creation of a universal care benefit that covers child care and home care.
Beacon is a website and podcast created by the Maine People’s Alliance to highlight the experiences of everyday Mainers, share information about the political and policy processes that affect Maine people and promote a progressive worldview based on community, fairness and investing in the future.