Bill would force LePage administration to use federal funds to fight child poverty

Bill would force LePage administration to use federal funds to fight child poverty

The percentage of Maine children living in extreme poverty has skyrocketed under Governor Paul LePage’s administration, increasing at a rate eight times higher than the national average since 2011, and the state now has the ninth highest rate of child hunger in the country. At the same time, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has refused to spend $150 million in federal funds earmarked to help poverty-stricken kids.

The LIFT (Leveraging Investments in Families Today) Act would change that. Introduced by House Speaker Sara Gideon, the proposal would require that the federal dollars be used to address Maine’s increasing child poverty rate rather than being stockpiled in a bank account.

“Even by kindergarten, food insecure children will tend to be cognitively, emotionally and physically behind their peers,” said Gideon at a press conference introducing the legislation on Monday. “That’s why it is imperative that we invest now in Maine’s children who are experiencing poverty. Not only are they the future of our communities and our workforce, but quite simply, each one of them, as a young human being who is dependent on the adults around them, is worth it.”

Gideon’s bill, LD 1475, would stabilize families by ensuring basics like housing and heat and also assist parents with child care, education and reliable transportation so they can find and keep good-paying jobs.

“Children who are born into poverty and live persistently in poor conditions are at greatest risk of adverse outcomes. They don’t have an equal opportunity. Poor children tend to remain poor and live in neighborhoods of low economic opportunity. And children in impoverished communities are at risk for bad health outcomes,” said Dr. Steven Meister,  President-Elect of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The legislation is estimated to assist around 30,000 Maine children currently living in poverty.

“Passage of the LIFT legislation will produce the results we all want to see – it would increase opportunity for Maine children and families, bolster economic stability, and ensure the system is accountable to children who are currently suffering unnecessarily. This legislation offers hope and opportunity for Maine families and Maine’s economy,” said Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners.

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