New budget proposed by LePage
Governor LePage (R-Maine) recently proposed a $6.1 billion biennial budget for the 2012/2013 fiscal year, which could result in spending cuts for statewide welfare programs and a restructuring of government responsibilities in Maine. Faced with skyrocketing costs of liability expenses, LePage intends to reduce government spending in hopes of creating a more sustainable budget and reviving the state economy in the long run.
The LePage Administration argues that fiscal responsibility is necessary, especially given the end of federal stimulus funding and the increase in MaineCare enrollments, the state’s Medicaid program. Ultimately, these rising costs could necessitate a change.
“We need to lift the burden of debt from future generations, we need to improve our business climate so jobs can be created,” Speaker of the House Robert Nutting (R-District 78) of Oakland said in a press release.
The welfare reform package aims to eliminate or to reduce many state services to non-citizens over the course of the next two years.
The projected savings are $840,000 from cuts in the food stamp program, $735,000 in social security payments for the elderly and disabled, nearly $316,000 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and $50 million from MaineCare. The largest impacted service will be MaineCare, which provides subsidized health insurance to poor children, the disabled, the elderly, and other qualified adults.
As a further cost cutting measure, LePage hopes to freeze enrollment in MaineCare and to impose new premiums, while eliminating Medicare premium assistance for seniors and those with disabilities. The proposal would make non-citizen immigrants ineligible for MaineCare coverage. It would also deem parents earning more than 133 percent of the poverty level ineligible to enroll in MaineCare.
Despite these reductions, the budget still includes a $181.8 million increase in MaineCare funding, $11.3 million in additional funding for community mental health services and a $1.3 million endowment for a primary care project, aimed at reducing emergency room use. Overall, there will be a net increase in spending over the next two years. These increases will account for the rising medical costs of a growing population and a reduction in federal reimbursements.
LePage has made it clear that he would prefer to make more cuts to MaineCare, but federal standards, as determined by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, have prevented him from making further changes to the state’s eligibility requisites.
Further MaineCare cuts, by increasing the number of uninsured residents in Maine, could result in the lost of federal funding. "That's two-thirds federal dollars,” Christopher St. John, executive director of the Maine Economic Policy Center, said in a press release.
Though Maine is one of the primary states fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for the meantime, their hands are tied. Thus, the administration has turned elsewhere for savings, including reductions in the Fund for Healthy Maine and other public health group programs.
"When we're in these tremendously difficult financial times, we have to look at everything,” Barbara Van Burgel, director of the Office of Integrated Access and Support at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in a press release. “I don't think we have a choice.”
Public outcry has been immediate and decisive on both sides of the debate. Some argue that the cuts will leave many citizens vulnerable by eliminating such a large number of welfare programs. Protests in cities across Maine have featured public testimony, rallying against the LePage Administration.
The reform “turns its back on people who lose their jobs and eventually find themselves homeless,” Marcia Frank of Homeless Voices for Justice said in a press release.
Yet, proponents view the welfare reform as a lesson in longevity, promoting efficiency and self-sufficiency. These new policies “make it clear that the program is a temporary and rare piece of assistance, so it’s not something people would turn to time and time again,” Dan Demeritt, director of communications and legislative affairs for the Governor, said.