Repairing Maine’s Safety Net

Both Democratic and Republican administrations have eroded protections for those hardest hit by the recession, instead of making the rich contribute their fair share to balance our budget.  As a result of cuts and eligibility changes to programs like Maine Care, Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Food Supplement, SSI, and General Assistance, tens of thousands of Mainers are have a harder time making ends meet in an already difficult economy.

The Problem

These programs are being cut at exactly the wrong time.  Hard times are when these programs need the most funding and generous eligibility—not the least.  The central purpose of these programs is what economists call their ability to be “counter-cyclical”: when the economy contracts, these programs expand.  Not only does this help hundreds of thousands of Mainers get through the recession, it stabilizes the economy to make sure lower and middle-income families have enough money to still be customers for struggling businesses.  Because state governments have taken so much of their spending out of the economy, demand has weakened and businesses have had a harder time creating jobs.  Shoring up the safety net is the best way to break this cycle.

Why Support the Safety Net

1.Mainers have a moral obligation to take care of each other in hard times.

2.It’s good for everyone in the long run.  By getting money into the pockets of those who need it most, not only do we ensure that Mainers have enough to make ends meet, we also help the economy recover by ensuring local businesses still have customers.

3.Poverty disproportionately harms women, people of color, and young Mainers. Although overall rates of employment in Maine are still at recession-levels, some communities have been stuck at depression levels of unemployment—even before the recession hit.  For example, even before the economic downturn, the unemployment rate within the Somali population in Lewiston was estimated at 50%.

Addressing Common Concerns

There is a Responsible Solution!  By making the top 1% pay a state and local effective tax rate equal to that of the average Mainer, we can avoid these cuts.  A broad coalition from the Catholic Church to the Maine Medical Association supports this approach and more than fifty individual state legislators have spoken out in favor of this plan.

When discussing safety net programs, it’s important that policies are based on evidence, not anecdotes. Briefly, here are the facts:

•Most people receive TANF because they can’t find or maintain steady work. This is due primarily to poor job opportunities and family crises (such as health issues or domestic violence).

•Recipients are eager to work: 97% reported work experience, with an average of three jobs in the past 3 years.

•Although education correlates with stable employment, 25% of TANF recipients lack a high school diploma or GED.

•Nearly half of all parents had health issues that limited their ability to work, and 67% of households had at least one family member with a disability.

Sources and Links to more information

•MaineCare changes made this year, including cuts to over 10,000 parents:

•Unemployment Insurance: LD 1725 counts unused vacation days against laid off workers and makes it harder for them to get their benefits.

•Workers Compensation: LD 1913 will take away Worker’s Compensation benefits from some of Maine’s most injured workers:

•Information on Food Supplements (i.e. Food Stamps and EBT cards):


oUnderstanding the new changes:

oReal facts about “welfare”:

•Summary of Maine’s Safety net programs before changes by the 125th legislature:

•Looking for some ideas on real welfare reform?  Check out why we need to revisit TANF’s overall structure, especially as a block grant program, if it is actually going to be able to get money to those hit hardest by economic downturns:

•April 2012 New York Times Article on the same subject:

•Department of Labor Study of Somali employment patterns:

•Constitutional challenge to immigrant benefit cuts: