Bill to Extend Federal Unemployment Benefits, Health Care Assistance and Aid to States Is Critical for Maine’s Economic Recovery

Advocates call on Maine’s Congressional delegation to lead the effort to pass comprehensive legislation currently stalled in Washington
Augusta, Maine (Thursday, June 3, 2010)— Advocates supporting the extension of critical federal support for economic recovery today called on the members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation to continue their support for important federal assistance to state Medicaid programs to help states, like Maine facing significant fiscal crisis, as well as for maintaining needed health care and unemployment benefits for their people.

“This is a critical juncture for the economic security of thousands of unemployed Mainers, for the effort to recover from the Great Recession and for the future economic prosperity of all Maine families,” said MECEP Executive Director Christopher “Kit” St. John.  “We are grateful to all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation for voting for these measures in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and at different times this year to extend the unemployment and health care benefits through the end of 2010 and the enhanced federal Medicaid assistance through state fiscal year 2011.  With record long-term joblessness plaguing the nation, now is the time to maintain our investment in critical safety net programs, not cut them. The fastest way to address the nation’s long-term deficit is to get the economy going again with the help of these emergency programs.”

(from left, Ana Hicks, MEJP; Kit St. John, MECEP; Mary Anne Turowski, MSEA/SEIU)

The advocates are concerned that efforts to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions of important tax extenders legislation have bogged down.  “There is a real danger that key provisions important to Maine’s economic recovery may be stripped from the bill,” said Ana Hicks, Senior Policy Advisor for Maine Equal Justice Partners.  ” Failure to extend enhanced federal Medicaid assistance will create a hole in Maine’s state budget of more than $85 million, putting vital health care services and jobs in jeopardy.  If Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance coverage more than 30,000 Mainers will lose benefits.  Failure to extend COBRA premium assistance will cause many Maine families to lose health insurance.”

“Until the economic expansion is in full swing and the unemployment rate is way down, jobs, and the protection of America’s families hardest hit by the recession should be the nation’s first priority.  Instead, the deficit hawks are pulling the plug on critical benefits, which could send shock waves through the state’s economy,” said John Carr, President of the Maine Council of Senior Citizens.  “The impact on our seniors for failing to act could be devastating.”

“We must be concerned with long-term deficits, but these critical measures are not part of the problem.  Right now, we need to focus on helping put back to work those families who have been hit hardest by the most severe economic devastation since the Great Depression,” said Don Berry, President of the Maine AFL-CIO.  “Extending unemployment and health care benefits and enhanced federal health care assistance is a necessary first step.”