The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how interconnected our health and livelihoods are to one another. We’ve seen how one person’s illness can lead to an outbreak, and how an outbreak can drastically affect entire communities. But long before COVID-19, lack of accessible, affordable health care has been causing disruptions and losses everywhere – in our schools, our businesses and our own families.

For the health of all Maine residents and the well-being of our state’s economy, everyone needs access to affordable health care. During the pandemic, when a record number of Mainers lost their jobs, MaineCare was able to provide life-saving support to hundreds of thousands of people in every corner of our state. This ensured access to treatment for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, mental health and more. Receiving this critical care has given Mainers the ability to continue caring for their families, contribute to their communities, keep working or find a new job.

However, many of our neighbors, co-workers and friends are barred from receiving MaineCare, despite earning low incomes that should qualify them for care. In 2011, the LePage administration stripped MaineCare from many immigrants in Maine, taking critical access to health care away from children, adults and older Mainers.

The pandemic has exposed just how harmful this discriminatory policy has been for members of Maine’s immigrant communities. Without MaineCare, many low-income people who are immigrants have had to go years without routine preventive care. This made members of these communities particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, and has been a major contributing factor in why Maine has seen some of the worst racial disparities for COVID-19 in the nation. When many Mainers of color are immigrants, using citizenship status to bar people’s access to health care contributes to racial disparities.

This year, the Maine Legislature has the opportunity to restore health care access to immigrants in Maine by passing L.D. 718, a bill that will close these coverage gaps in MaineCare and in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. L.D. 718 is a continuation of the Maine Legislature’s long-standing efforts to support immigrants and give them the health care they need. In 1996, with strong bipartisan support, the Legislature exercised its right under federal law to provide health care to low-income Maine residents who are immigrants. In the 129th Legislature, state lawmakers considered legislation to return this policy after it was undone by the LePage administration.

Immigrants who call Maine home want the same as generations before: a safe place to raise their family, be part of their communities and to make a better future. Health care is an essential stepping stone. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrants have done essential work in our health care, education, transportation and food production sectors. They’ve risked their health, and the health of their families, in order to keep our state going and support themselves. Beyond immigrants’ contributions to our schools, workplaces and communities, they also contribute a lot in taxes. In 2018, immigrant-led households in Maine paid $437.7 million in federal taxes and $193.9 million and state and local taxes, and Maine Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and DACA-eligible individuals paid an estimated $109,000 in state and local taxes.

It is long overdue that we restore health care benefits to children, adults and older Mainers with low incomes, regardless of their immigration status. Health care is a human right, and the pandemic has revealed how, when we ignore that right, families, schools, businesses and local economies are affected. In short, we need to take better care of each other.

Urge your representative and senator in the Maine Legislature to support L.D. 718. Passing this bill is an essential step in making Maine a more equitable place for everyone who has decided to make our beautiful state their home.

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