The LePage administration has abandoned a generation of Maine children to poverty
Last week in Androscoggin county, a panel of child poverty experts came together at Bates College and produced an absolutely stark set of data. According to the reporting of the Lewiston Sun Journal, these experts outlined a startling portrait of child poverty in Maine’s second largest metropolitan area: nearly one in three children in the county aged five and younger live in poverty (more than twice the average across New England), and that “when it comes to children experiencing food insecurity, Maine ranks 11th worst in the nation, and the numbers in Androscoggin County are among the worst in the state.”
Truly, the children of Central Maine and the state at large are experiencing a deepening crisis of poverty and insecurity that constitutes one of the most acute public health crises in the history of our state. This is a fact, however, that would not be clear if you were trying to identify the state’s most pressing issues through an examination of the LePage administration’s budget priorities.
It is often said in government that budgets are statements of priorities. Every proposed line item, each choice to spend or not spend reveals something about the value or importance our elected leaders place on certain issues, programs, or people. With that in mind, what are we to make of the fact that in the face of these outrageous childhood poverty numbers, a bombshell report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy reveals that the LePage administration left two billion dollars in federal matching funds on the table since 2011 that would have funded the very programs that have been shown time and again to lift children and their families out of the terrifying grip of poverty?
$3.1 million for the Child Care Block Grant. $59.5 million for the childhood health program, CHIP. $200 million for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. $142 million for the SNAP food program. Not to mention another $1 billion in lost federal funds from the failure of the administration to expand Medicaid. These are all programs that would give immediate, critical relief to Maine children and Maine families. All were ignored by the LePage administration.
And the crisis for Maine’s children continues.
The health of our children should not be a partisan issue. Last year, I was filled with pride when a politically-divided Auburn City government not only vocally prioritized eliminating childhood poverty in our community, but put our money where our mouths were by piloting new federally-funded programs – among them, one aimed at keeping low income families with children at risk of eviction in their homes and school districts for the entire school year, because study after study has shown that changing schools mid-year can be disastrous for the long-term educational outcomes of low-income children. This was done without controversy or fanfare because there was universal agreement among the City Council that protecting the well-being of our city’s children is a moral and economic imperative, even in an era of tightening city budgets and vanishing federal block grant funds.
The fact that the Governor has actively sought to eliminate funding for such programs, all while cutting taxes for the wealthy and passing the tab onto middle and working class families provides all of the information that we need when asking ourselves where his priorities truly lie. And while he plays politics and postures toward a U.S. Senate run next year, a generation of his state’s children will bear the scars of his backward political priorities.
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