AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed cuts and changes to the state budget ran into more opposition Wednesday in Augusta.
Advocates for the poor and for immigrants told legislators the budget would take away important benefits from many of those people, and that it could force towns and cities to spend more to help them.
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee is working its way through Gov. LePage’s proposed two-year budget, which includes major cuts and changes to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Among them is the elimination of state funding for the General Assistance program, and eliminating welfare benefits for many non-citizens, including new immigrants and asylum seekers.
DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew told lawmakers those and other cuts are needed, in part, so that DHHS can help state government reduce costs.
The department budget contains an overall cut of $139 million. Mayhew said that’s part of the LePage administration’s larger goal of reducing taxes, which it says will help Maine’s economy.
Opponents said the cuts would make it harder for families and children to get food or shelter and could drive up costs for towns and cities. But Commissioner Mayhew said the changes are needed to cut state spending and lower taxes, to help create more jobs and a better economy.
“It is about changing the opportunities in this state for anyone who is here by promoting a more vibrant economy,” Mayhew said. “The more that you build these programs, create this dependency, the more we are detracting from a reduced tax burden and the opportunity to create and sustain jobs in this state.”
But budget opponents say the cuts would hurt many low-income people.
The proposed budget would eliminate all state reimbursement to towns and cities for General Assistance, often called the welfare program of last resort.
GA managers from around the state told lawmakers that cutting that state funding would not reduce the need for help for poor people and families, and would force more expense onto local budgets.
The proposals to prohibit use of SNAP and TANF benefits, and General Assistance, by most non-citizens brought complaints from the immigrant community. Advocates said those seeking asylum often depend on General Assistance for food and shelter, and that eliminating that would force people and families onto the streets.
Low-income advocates have also protested the budget plan to reduce eligibility for adults on Medicaid, eliminating everyone earning more than 40 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. DHHS says that would affect roughly 19,000 people.
The budget, which includes the governor’s equally controversial proposal for major income tax reductions, still has a long road to travel through the Legislative process.
There will be more hearings on other aspects of the proposal, and then committee discussions and deliberations. Final votes on the plan aren’t expected until late May or early June.
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