AUGUSTA — On Thursday, members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will deliver what is called a “report back” to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. To put it in simpler terms, we’re going to let them know what we think of the current budget proposal from Gov. LePage.

We sat through hours of public testimony and heard from countless experts. We took a hard look at what’s been happening and how it’s been affecting Maine families. We know most Mainers won’t have the opportunity to read these reports, but this information is critical to the success of our state – so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share what we’ve learned.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. For the last six years, we have failed to invest in Maine’s future. And like any failure of investment, whether it be in business or in education, the consequences can be dire. But unlike business or education, the consequences from this lack of investment affect the health, safety and economic security of Maine children and their families.

Gov. LePage and Commissioner Mary Mayhew of the Department of Health and Human Services have been the architects of short-sighted policies that have driven children and families deeper into poverty, increased childhood hunger and removed basic health care from struggling families. We are now seeing the devastating effects: Our children are experiencing high levels of hunger and stress in their development, and an increasing number of children are starting school unready to learn.

The programs the DHHS administers should seek to empower Mainers and provide them with opportunities to be healthy, strong and productive. Simply cutting participation in these programs does not help to improve Mainers’ lives, but rather contributes to them becoming less healthy, poorer and less able to participate successfully in work and community.

We need to highlight Le-Page’s and Mayhew’s reasoning behind cutting programs – to fund an enormous income tax cut for those who need it the least. Their proposal would give a tax break to the tune of $14,000 a year to a married couple without children making $500,000. A family of four who makes $58,000? Well, they’d see about $8.

Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2014, Maine had the sharpest increase (50 percent) of any state in the country in the number of children living in extreme poverty – or less than half the federal poverty line, about $10,000 for a family of three. Imagine trying to take care of your family on about $800 a month. It’s absolutely terrifying. We know that too many Mainers are actually living with that budget as their reality.

We’ve got to accept that this is a direct consequence of policy decisions by this administration based on ideologies that withhold opportunity instead of promoting it. It’s creating a system that rewards those doing well and tries to punish people out of poverty. It’s not working. It’s making things worse.

The programs carried out by the DHHS are meant to create a bridge from challenging circumstances to the ability to live out these ideals. Mainers work hard for their money, but they are also willing to help their neighbors going through tough times to get back on their feet. They trust us as legislators to be thoughtful, practical and expedient.

Mainers value dignity, hard work, practicality and independence. Our government must reflect those values by ensuring that people can meet their most basic needs, while at the same time providing the services and supports necessary to help prepare them to live healthy, productive, independent lives.

Rather than cutting people off from lifelines to security, we must do what we can to support our people to reach independence and achieve their goals. These lifelines are not intended to be long term solutions, merely a bridge to stability and financial independence. To paraphrase former Maine Gov. Joseph Brennan and President Ronald Reagan, the best welfare program is a job, and the best social welfare agency is a family.

The problems we need to solve are bigger than this budget, bigger than the next two years, and bigger than the current administration. It won’t be easy, but the future of our state depends on the decisions we make right now. We think Maine is strongest when all families are thriving. We must capitalize on our natural advantages, deliver quality services and invest in Maine’s future. We know that’s what Mainers want, and it’s what we intend to deliver.

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