AUGUSTA — Hundreds of advocates for the poor are expected at the State House today for a rally and a public hearing on new budget cuts proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that would eliminate health insurance for 28,000 Mainers.

The Maine Can Do Better Coalition, which includes AARP, various health care groups, the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine State Employees Association, will hold a rally this morning in the Hall of Flags. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will start its hearing at 1 p.m.

“This major rewrite of the budget will jeopardize Maine’s economic recovery and undermine the health and safety of thousands of people,” said Sara Gagne-Holmes, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, in a statement released Tuesday.

LePage’s proposal would eliminate Medicaid coverage for childless adults and parents whose income is more than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $24,645 a year for a family of three.

Maine is one of only 15 states that extend Medicaid coverage to childless adults, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said last week.

The administration proposed budget changes Friday to address a $164 million shortfall in the state budget that will take effect July 1. The health insurance cut would save more than $35 million.

The administration also is proposing to eliminate 259 vacant state jobs, take nearly $30 million out of the state’s rainy day fund, eliminate public funding for gubernatorial candidates and draw down additional federal funds.

The public hearing is expected to attract union representatives because of a provision in the budget package that would repeal collective bargaining rights for about 200 at-home child care workers. The workers take care of children who qualify for state subsidies that help pay for their care.

The workers voted in October 2007 to be represented by the Maine State Employees Association. Legislation to allow the arrangement was passed in 2008.

The union negotiated the first contract on behalf of the workers in August 2009, said Chris Quint, executive director of the state employees association.

“My thought is that the governor is trying to eliminate collective bargaining for these folks so he can cut the subsidy rates,” Quint said.

LePage is proposing the change because the workers are not state employees and fewer than five states have such collective bargaining arrangements, said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage.

“It’s a highly unusual situation,” she said. “It’s a collective bargaining agreement without an employer-employee relationship.”

Former Senate President Beth Edmonds, who co-sponsored the legislation that allowed the workers to unionize, said she felt it was important to give them a chance to bargain collectively to help stabilize their wages and give them a chance at getting benefits such as sick days.

“It gives you the arena to have those discussions without worrying about getting fired,” she said. “I’m sorry (the administration) wants to take a step backwards.”

After today’s public hearing, the Appropriations Committee will spend several days working on the budget, including work sessions scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]