Maine and National Safety Net Programs Keep Families from Falling Further into Poverty

Augusta, Maine (Tuesday, September 28, 2010)—Based on 2009 poverty data released today by the Census Bureau, approximately 157,000 Maine people lived below the federal poverty level last year.  This resulted in a preliminary poverty rate of 12.3% in Maine, essentially unchanged from 2008.  At the national level, the change was definitive with a U.S. poverty rate of 14.3% in 2009, up from 13.2% the previous year.  Historically, Maine’s poverty rate is comparable to the economic downturn in early 2000s, but lower than observed levels during the recessions of the early 80s and early 90s.

“But for timely federal assistance that helped retain jobs and a strong safety net that has apparently helped prevent people from going into poverty, things could have been a lot worse in Maine,” said Christopher St. John, Executive Director of Maine Center for Economic Policy. “We’re not out of the woods yet.  Maine suffered tremendous job losses in this recession, and the Recovery Act provided many Mainers a lifeline through increased unemployment benefits, food stamps and tax credits, which together have helped many people feed their children, keep their homes, and take care of their families.  The cessation of federal assistance combined with likely cuts to the state budget could have very detrimental long-term impacts on Maine’s people and economy.”

The Census Bureau also released data on health insurance coverage. While the national rate of uninsurance rose from 15.4% to 16.7% between 2008 and 2009, with over 4 million people losing their health insurance, Maine’s 2009 rate of10.5%  is not statistaically different from the 2008 rate. Notably, Maine’s Medicaid coverage played a critical role in keeping people insured as they lost their jobs during the economic meltdown.

“A lot more people could have gone without any insurance, especially children.” said MECEP Fiscal Analyst Dan Coyne. “We are grateful that our senators have helped by extending unemployment benefits and medical assistance that have saved jobs in Maine. Now is no time to throw up our hands and let many of the Recovery provisions expire. We need to commit to full recovery from this recession by putting people to work through continued public investment.”

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey results released today provide an more in-depth look at poverty than provided by the Current Population survey two weeks ago.