Upcoming budget process gives legislators a choice to make our communities more resilient
As Mainers have seen, when legislators resist a scarcity mindset and choose to fund improvements to health and economic wellbeing, the entire state prospers. Recent law changes increased funding in and boosted access to health care, child care, and education for thousands of Mainers. These victories were won through investments in state budgets, and by making the choice to protect and expand upon them in future budgets, lawmakers can continue to improve the quality of life for all Mainers.
State government provided critical support to collective health and economic wellbeing in recent years
Recognizing the critical role of state government in protecting and enhancing opportunities and wellbeing for Maine people, the governor and legislature pursued a number of policies in recent years that provide security to families.
To protect the health of families, Maine notably expanded Medicaid in 2019, helping over 134,000 Mainers afford health insurance and likely boosting the economy in the process. Later expanding MaineCare to include preventative dental care helped over 200,000 Mainers protect their dental health, which in turn improved their overall health. Expanded access to health insurance for over 40,000 Maine children provided benefits to health and economic outcomes both now and in the future.
The state helped support a sector of the economy that is critical to the economic health and wellbeing of families. This support was provided in the form of monthly $200 stipends for over 7,000 child care workers, desperately needed financial assistance to a workforce facing extremely low pay.
Maine state government bolstered support for education by increasing state funding for public education and making community college free for two years. This will help over 173,000 Maine children enrolled in public schools and over 10,000 Mainers enrolled in community colleges achieve their full educational potential. Education is also a very strong investment in the economy, which will likely pay for itself over time.
Demonstrating the transformative power state government can have when we decide to invest in ourselves, these policy decisions safeguard and improve the quality of life for Mainers and help community members live healthier, better educated, and more financially stable lives.
Recent investments should be protected and continued
While recent budget decisions have been and will continue to change lives, some are currently temporary and limited in their ability to continuously improve the quality of life in Maine. Funding for free community college, for instance, is only available to students who graduated high school or earned a high school equivalency from 2020 through 2023. Continuing to provide Maine adults with free community college would enable future generations of students to also benefit from this program and make the economy more prosperous in the process. Meanwhile, the stipends for child care workers expire in 2023, but the need for child care services is continuous. Maine child care providers are in crisis, and increased funding for worker pay would help support this critical industry that supports the entire economy. By continuing support for education and child care, lawmakers can ensure Maine workers, families, and communities receive the maximum return possible.
Lawmakers can choose to build upon investments to further improve lives
The public investments lawmakers have already made are commendable, and further support would pay off even more significantly for Maine families and the state. Paid family and medical leave would help Maine’s economy work for families while benefitting children, parents, and businesses. Additionally, pursuing policies that would alleviate the impacts of the affordable housing crisis — by providing immediate assistance to the most vulnerable community members and supporting the long-term development of affordable housing — is critical for health and economic stability.
Using the power of Maine’s state budget, legislators can make our communities more resilient by:
- Improving the financial stability of families by making the Child Tax Credit refundable and increasing its value so families with children have more cash to afford essentials
- Making Maine healthier by providing full Medicaid coverage for immigrants
- Making students — and, by extension, Maine’s workforce — better educated by increasing the value of the State of Maine Grant so more Mainers can afford college
These are only a few examples of the many smart investments lawmakers can choose to make toward collective health, safety, education, and economic security.
The next state budget will be discussed and voted by the legislature in the coming months. Policymakers should protect the supports and services already provided while pursuing additional policies to enhance the health and economic stability of Mainers.