Join MECEP in Stamping Out the Distortions About Maine’s Safety Net
At the Maine Center for Economic Policy, we believe that rigorous and credible research and analysis should be at the core of discussions of public policy. A recent report titled “Fixing the System” by the Maine Heritage Policy Center fails to meet such standards and creates a misleading view that has the potential to cause real damage to Maine’s people and economy when we can least afford it.
Here are some facts to consider when talking about Maine’s safety net.
Maine’s safety net is more important now than ever before.
Maine’s greatest strength is our ability to help our neighbors during a time of
crisis. Over 100,000 workers in Maine are unemployed or underemployed due to one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression. Many are unable to meet basic needs of their family for food, shelter, and medical care. Now is no time to scapegoat such people or to remove the supports most likely to help them perservere in a changing economy.
Maine’s safety net boosts Maine’s economy.
Not only does our safety net keep Maine families and children out of poverty, it also positions them for future success. Beyond this, state spending on safety net programs leverages federal dollars providing a significant economic boost to Maine’s
economy. Payments to health care providers through MaineCare and to local merchants and farmers through the food supplement program for example not only deliver important benefits, they also ripple throughout local economies.
Maine’s safety net program focuses on creating independence.
Since 1996, 63,000 families have left Maine’s program providing temporary assistance. Maine’s program has the lowest maximum monthly benefit for a family of three, $485, than any other New England state and from 2008 through July 2010, nearly twice as many aid recipients left Maine each month as compared to the number who moved to Maine. The bulk of increased spending on Maine’s safety net has been directed with bipartisan support to expanding access to health care. This is a critical investment that leaves Maine well-positioned to maximize the potential benefits of federal health reform.
Maine’s safety net is not the source of our budget woes.
Maine faces close to a $1 billion shortfall during the next budget cycle. In inflation adjusted figures, current general fund spending is lower than it was in 1999. This despite the fact that the health care and construction costs grew at a rate much greater than inflation. The current shortfall is mostly attributed to the downturn in the economy and to a system of raising revenue that hasn’t been significantly modified in over 30 years.
Additional Information You Can Use
We’ve written elsewhere about the shortcomings of MHPC’s report and I will be debating their CEO Tarren Bragdon on this topic tomorrow morning on WGME TV Channel 13 as I talked this morning with George Hale and Ric Tyler on Voice of Maine WVOM radio. We believe that Maine’s safety net would certainly benefit from being re-evaluated and strengthened but that it should be done using credible research and analysis. When you hear someone talk about this issue, it is important to ask them to be specific:
- Which program are they talking about?
- What is the specific purpose of the program and who benefits?
- How much money is spent on the program? How is it spent and where does it come from (federal sources, state sources, or other sources)?
- How much discretion do we have at the state-level to determine the rules for the program? What would be different if the changes they are suggesting are enacted?
Such questions insure that you are comparing apples with apples and that the discussion is grounded in fact rather than the kind of distortion that has become all too common during this election