Equal Justice Update

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Now that the Legislature has adjourned and the many twists and turns of the 2015 legislative session are behind us, it is time to reflect on some of the outcomes. The ‘ups and downs’ were many but Maine Equal Justice, along with its many allies achieved several victories while fending off a multitude of punitive proposals that would have made life even harder for people struggling to get by.

We want to thank all of you who participated in our collective efforts during the legislative session to make Maine a better place for all of its residents to live and work. To those of you who shared your stories, and those of you who stood with and for people living on the edge – we are grateful.  Your words, your actions and your courage truly made a difference – and demonstrated that equal justice does matter.

Maine Takes a Step toward Real Welfare Reform

In 2014 MEJP polled nearly 500 likely Maine voters and surveyed nearly 1,000 people with low incomes to ask their thoughts about poverty and how to reduce it in Maine. We learned that Mainers agree that the emphasis of welfare reform should be on expanding opportunity, not punishing people. Community forums held with people across the state last fall reinforced the survey result findings: Maine people believe that real reform should focus on building bridges to opportunity. Ultimately, the majority of legislators agreed and rejected dozens of punitive proposals that would have made life harder for people living on the edge. Plus, the Legislature took several positive steps toward making it easier for people to achieve economic self-sufficiency. (more…)

Equal Access to Maine’s Safety Net 

The Governor’s proposed budget, as well as a stand-alone bill, included proposals to bar access to Maine’s General Assistance (GA) program for some immigrants including people who fled persecution in their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S.  The budget also proposed eliminating state-funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Supplement (SNAP) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to lawfully present groups, including asylum seekers. These proposals ultimately failed, preserving aid for basic life necessities for hundreds of people, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.  While the Legislature rejected cuts to these three state-funded programs, the status of GA for asylum seekers and other immigrants remains unclear. (more…)

Health Care 

The Legislature considered several bills this session to expand health care coverage for Maine people with low incomes through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Cover Maine Now Coalition and many other allies advocated for the passage of legislation that would make health insurance available to close to 70,000 uninsured people with low incomes in Maine.  Despite those efforts, the Legislature rejected the opportunity to accept federal funds that would make this coverage possible. MEJP and its allies will continue our efforts to achieve greater health care coverage in Maine; the benefits to the state would be many – both to its economy and to the health and well-being of thousands of its people.

We’re happy to report, however, that the Legislature rejected several proposals that would have significantly cut healthcare programs that assist vulnerable Mainers, and took some steps forward to increase access to healthcare services. (more…)

Food/Hunger

MEJP was a strong supporter of LD 1052, An Act to Feed Rural Citizens of the State this session. This bill would have helped to prevent hunger for thousands of unemployed and underemployed Maine people who recently lost their SNAP benefits because they couldn’t find work or volunteer opportunities, or couldn’t get enough hours from their employer. Despite the advocacy of individuals and organizations across the state, many of whom came to Augusta to testify in support of the bill at the public hearing, it failed to pass. (more…)

Housing 

Housing affordability is a major problem in Maine and one that will only get worse unless the state formulates a more comprehensive response to the housing needs of Maine people. We’re pleased that legislators made incremental progress this session toward developing statewide solutions for housing and rejected a proposal that would have increased homelessness (more…

Employment 

There were several efforts to improve the economic security of low-wage workers this session. Most notably several bills were introduced to increase the state’s minimum wage as well as bills to increase retail worker rights. (more…)

Wrap Up:

All in all, the legislative outcomes could have been a lot worse given the current political environment. Together, Maine Equal Justice along with our many allies  were able to fend off many harmful proposals and actually take some positive steps forward.  Thank you for working with us to make this happen.  We hope that you will continue to walk down the path of real reform with us.  Our work is not done until every Mainer is able to meet their most basic needs and live with the dignity and respect that we all want for ourselves and for our families.

(August 2015)


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