I have no idea what ax letter writer Ray Arft is grinding (“Time to take a close look at hiring of substitutes” Dec. 18).

Let me see if I can set him straight on some of the erroneous points he raised.

In order to substitute teach in Maine, it is a requirement that you have a background/criminal record check before you can even be considered.

You are fingerprinted by the state police.

A check is made for a criminal record in Maine.

Your information is then forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a comprehensive country-wide check.

Rest assured that the process is more stringent than the impression Mr. Arft espouses.

He does have this fact right: You do not need to be a certified teacher to become a substitute.

As far as follow-up is concerned, once a candidate for substitute teaching has been “vetted,” local school officials maintain a watchful eye until he or she has proven themselves.

Mr. Arft’s letter implies that subs only need a GED or a high school diploma.

What Mr. Arft does not say, either by oversight or by intent, is that many subs have four-year degrees and some have graduate degrees. When one applies to work as a substitute teacher, college transcripts must be submitted.

I am a substitute teacher who graduated with a degree in English and literature, magna cum laude, from a long-established, accredited New England university.

I have subbed for over four years. I have been drug tested, fingerprinted and checked.

As a father of four and a grandfather of six, your children are safe in my care.

I see myself with a sacred trust to protect their well-being.

Frederic Browne

Richmond

Illness and age are not results of poor life choices

In a recent letter, a Portland Press Herald reader named George Fogg felt it necessary to blame those who require help from Medicaid and other programs on Gov. LePage’s chopping block because they made “poor choices” (“Another View: Demand for MaineCare fueled by people’s poor planning” Dec 19).

I’d be interested to hear a more in-depth definition of what the writer’s idea of a “poor choice” is.

What “poor choices” did those afflicted with mental and physical disabilities or serious illnesses make to deserve a loss of services?

What “poor choices” did the elderly make to cause them to lose services such as basic nursing home care?

The “choice” to grow old?

The “choice” to get sick?

What “poor choices” were made by those laid off from good jobs they’ve held for years as those jobs were shipped overseas or disappeared altogether because of a worldwide economic calamity far beyond their control?

In the meantime, his letter reminded me of a wildlife fact I read once.

No, nothing to do with golden gooses but another animal instead.

Coyotes, a normally highly sociable animal known for their complex social hierarchy and family bond, change behavior dramatically during lean times when resources are scarce.

They’ll suddenly turn cannibal, savagely attacking and devouring each other, targeting the weakest first, the very old, very young, the sick or injured, with no mercy.

As human beings we were supposed to have chosen a long time ago a far different path from that of a pack of wild dogs.

A path where we choose to exhibit such non-coyote traits as empathy and compassion toward one another.

Maybe the writer would find that to be a “poor choice” as well?

Jeremy Smith

Old Orchard Beach

Public assistance should be left up to the towns

Up to the year 1900, in some states, north as well as south, those who sought public assistance faced a humiliating experience.

Given the thrift required in everyday living and in town budgeting of the times, the idea was to make public assistance the last choice anyone would want to make.

Once confirmed as being unable to fend for themselves, local town residency was established for these individuals and sometimes litigated, as once confirmed for the record, your town was responsible for you.

Public auctions were held where you were essentially indentured to your “buyer.”

Food and shelter was provided in return for work until fortunes changed one way or the other.

Applying for disability now seems to have no shame.

After all, the program is there and I can get a lawyer, no doubt on contingency, if things don’t go my way.

Having said that, I know that we live in different times now and those who qualify for help should get it, but from the many expert comments in the article it is apparent that the Obama administration and many administrations before it have known for quite some time the serious application and adjudication flaws in the current system.

It is a travesty and a tragedy that at the same time that we can measure, and even worse, accept the level of mismanagement in the program, we are engaged in wide disagreements about what we should do about our national debt, whose ceiling this administration is now seeking to raise above $16 trillion.

Perhaps we can further localize the disability application and appeals process back to the town level.

There, at least, we have a better chance of knowing the people applying for benefits, their circumstances, their character, their true level of qualified disability, as well as electing local judges who might adjudicate claims more conservatively.

John L. Ross

Edgecomb

New EPA standards will improve health, save lives

Just in time for the holidays, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new public health standards to protect everyone from air emissions of mercury and other toxic chemicals from the nation’s dirtiest power plants.

The new mercury and air toxics standards will slash emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide from coal- and oil-burning power plants.

This new public health safeguard is particularly important for Maine, which is downwind of hundreds of power plants.

That’s why Maine has been dubbed the “tailpipe state” of the nation.

According to the American Lung Association, limits on mercury and other pollutants pumped into the air by power plants could prevent as many as 4,700 heart attacks, up to 3,100 emergency room visits and 130,000 asthma attacks among children a year.

Implementing this rule without delay could save up to 11,000 lives over the next year alone!

In fact, the health benefits associated with these updated standards amounts to $37 billion to $90 billion by 2016.

This means that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, we get anywhere from $3 to $9 in health benefits!

These new public health standards will create jobs too.

The EPA estimates that updating power plants with new air pollution control technology will support 46,000 new short-term construction jobs and 8,000 new long-term jobs at power plants.

That’s why I hope Congress does the right thing and does not delay the EPA from implementing these new public health standards. I am calling on Maine’s Sens. Snowe and Collins to support these new rules so that we can all breathe a little easier.

Clare Ruthenburg

Portland