The recent announcement of the impending closure of a Scarborough program for young people with intellectual disabilities highlights an important confluence of inequity, workforce crisis and the finer points of the legislative procedures that affect public policy.

Gov. Janet Mills ought to call the Legislature back for a brief special session to address these issues.

The Scarborough program is closing because the Maine Department of Health and Human Services requires that direct care workers earn at least 125% of minimum wage – far below the going rate in today’s labor market (or even yesterday’s labor market). While 125% is a significant improvement over the reimbursement rate that prevailed in the early days of the pandemic, it was always clear that it was still below market. This perpetuates ongoing disparities impacting Mainers with disabilities.

The governor is correct that economic growth is outpacing Maine’s workforce, and state initiatives like child care expansion and integration of new Mainers more effectively into the workforce are important parts of the solution – but paying market rate is also essential, for reasons of both economic health and equity.

There are other examples of longstanding inequities affecting Mainers with disabilities. L.D. 1666 would have raised the modest state supplement to federal supplemental security income (SSI) payments for the first time in 50 years. Currently, the state pays only $10 per month to adult Mainers with significant disabilities – but takes back half of that small amount if a Mainer is married to another Mainer with a disability who receives SSI. Marriage penalties like that mean that Mainers with disabilities don’t enjoy the marriage equality that so many other Mainers take for granted. For Mainers with disabilities who follow the tenets of their faith to marry before they live together, it exacts an unfair financial penalty for living by their faith.

L.D. 2166 would have funded pilot programs for postsecondary education to Maine students with intellectual or developmental disabilities or autism spectrum disorder. There is a national movement for inclusive career-oriented postsecondary education for such students, but Maine is letting itself be left behind. Moreover, while the state has invested millions so that students who graduated Maine high schools during the COVID-19 pandemic can enjoy free community college, it has completely ignored students with disabilities who exited without a diploma.


Not funding L.D. 2166 was cruel and inequitable.

Gov. Mills decided in a May 14 letter to the Legislature not to sign 35 bills that were enacted and sent to her on the May 10 “veto day,” even though she said she sees value in and would support many of the bills otherwise. Her fundamental objection was whether the Legislature adhered to its constitutionally directed adjournment deadline in the absence of a two-thirds vote from the House of Representatives.

The governor also raised the issue that bills passed in such a fashion would be subject to the threat of serious legal challenge. Dozens of other bills appeared on track for final enactment after having gotten final action in the Senate – or having noncontroversial money-saving amendments queued up – but not having gotten a vote in the House before it became clear that the governor would not support bills thusly enacted on “veto day.” L.D. 1666 is one of those bills; the Senate was poised on “veto day” to at least address the marriage inequity.

To address the procedural issues she raised, the governor should lead by calling a special session to at least deal with the bills that the Appropriations Committee acted upon in the lead-up to “veto day” (and possibly deal with other critical bills like L.D. 2166 and with the workforce crisis).

This would give Gov. Mills the opportunity to make policy-based decisions on what to veto and what to see passed into law – and to go on the record with those decisions, indicating in each case which bills she thinks are worth the money – while insulating the bills whose policy she supports from legal challenges that she astutely identified as a possibility.

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