At a time when fake news and alternative facts are all the rage in certain quarters, it is a relief and a pleasure to read the latest report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, which, with measured prose and hard statistics, indicts the LePage administration for forfeiting almost $2 billion in available federal aid since 2011.
This is a scandal, no question. To date, for example, Augusta has said “No, thanks” to more than $1 billion that would have expanded Medicaid in Maine, via a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (still alive and kicking, despite the Republican Party’s slash-and-burn crusade).
This crucial infusion of federal dollars has been embraced by the District of Columbia and 32 states, including all our New England neighbors. If Maine were to accept its share of Medicaid money, some $246 million would be invested annually in the economy. But because Gov. Trump Lite has a pronounced distaste for Washington money, some 70,000 low-income Mainers cannot access affordable health care.
Since 2011, the state also has turned down $244 million in federal support for MaineCare, which provides medical services to low-income families with children. Partly as a result, the Maine Center for Economic Policy report notes, some 3,500 fewer Maine children had health insurance in 2015 than in 2010, the worst drop in the nation. And largely because of the state’s refusal to accept the federal dollars due it, Maine’s health ranking fell from 15th to 22nd last year, one of the biggest single-year declines in the country.
Thanks to the searing 10-part series that recently appeared in the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, thousands of Mainers now know in grim detail about the growing opioid epidemic in the state. What most of us don’t know, but the Maine Center for Economic Policy report makes clear, is that, while more than one person a day dies of drug abuse, the state has turned away $3.8 million from the federal government that would have helped prevent at least some of those deaths. The report stresses, too, that government assistance for families cuts poverty by half. Yet the state “has disqualified low-income parents from receiving food stamps and basic family assistance while turning back federal funds and letting funds accumulate unspent. Due to state policy decisions, 42,600 children have lost food assistance in recent years … .”
By now, conservatives reading this column may have decided that I’m simply another bleeding heart liberal devoted to the nanny state. Well, I am an unreconstructed New Dealer, but I also like to get a bang for my buck – the buck in this case being the taxes I’ll be sending to Washington this month. Why shouldn’t the portion of them due back in Maine be claimed: to help those less fortunate than I am, and to help me, too?
I drive a car on roads that, as Mainers know, are often more tank traps than highways. The Maine Center for Economic Policy report records that annually “Mainers pay $1 billion for traffic crashes, vehicle repairs, and wasted fuel from driving on roads in poor structural condition.” These roads cause more motor vehicle deaths annually than alcoholism does: 49 each year versus 37.
Yet over the past seven years, Augusta has not asked voters to approve the matching funds needed to secure all available federal funding, thus forgoing $196 million. Maine may be open for business, as the sign on Interstate 95 promises, but the state’s aged and rusty infrastructure is not nearly as welcoming as that invitation.
Gov. LePage makes loud pro-business noises, but he refused even to meet with federal experts working to find ways to strengthen Maine’s forest products industry, a $1.8 billion enterprise. Nor did the governor’s administration seek federal funds available to preserve 6,400 acres of working forest land, or for helping businesses reduce waste and chemical byproducts, obtain clean water and secure land research and development grants.
Drew Gattine, chair of the House Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, says that “turning away federal funds doesn’t lower your tax burden; it sends your tax dollars to another state. Mainers should be outraged by this report.” Amen, I say. And you may say it, too, after visiting mecep.org and reading the Maine Center for Economic Policy’s quietly damning study.