Forecaster Forum: Governor's budget pits Mainers against Mainers

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Gov. Paul LePage’s recent Department of Health and Human Services budget speaks to the failure of his administration to create jobs and implement a catalyst for economic recovery. But most importantly, the governor uses this budget just as he did in January 2011 to play Maine people against each other.

This tactic seeks to blame unpopular groups and, in many cases, powerless and unacceptable people in the governor’s perspective.

Last year, when the governor presented Maine’s two-year budget to the Legislature, he pitted the public against state employees, teachers, and persons on welfare. He cast these groups as the culprits for all of Maine’s economic woes. This budget, as well as the governor’s legislative package, contained no job-creation proposals.

This most recent budget portrays the low-income, the elderly and disabled, veterans, and children as the culprits. The governor’s proposals include eliminating most beds for elderly and disabled residents of private, non-medical institutions, also known as PNMIs.

More than 4,000 residents will be turned out of these facilities with no place to go. There is no plan in the governor’s proposal to help them. PNMI residents have an average age of 81 years, are primarily women, have no home or apartment to which to return, cannot live on their own, and 48 percent suffer from dementia. A significant number are also aged and disabled veterans.

Low-income elderly and disabled also lose financial assistance for prescription drugs and assistance toward payment of their Medicare Part A and B premiums. A total of 72,000 seniors will lose their Medicare Part D co-payments, 21,500 seniors will lose help with their Medicare Part A and B deductibles and co-insurance, and 18,500 seniors will lose all assistance under the Medicare Savings Program.

The governor’s budget also eliminates health insurance coverage for 16,000 childless adults with incomes of 100 percent or less of the federal poverty level. In addition, the Parents of Children program is cut by 50 percent. These groups are among the lowest income households in Maine. In addition, there is a population of homeless veterans who, up to now, have been receiving health care by means of the Childless Adult program, but who lose this access to health care under the governor’s proposal.

The governor’s budget eliminates all state funding for Head Start, and for 7,000 youth ages 19 and 20 years old – many of whom are foster children with no parents.

Another provision of this budget provides mental health funding exclusively for severe and persistent mental illness. Low-income residents with a lesser degree of mental illness will receive no state assistance for mental health services, and their opportunities to be productive members in our society will be put at risk.

There is a substantial cost that is not taken into consideration in the governor’s budget. Nearly 4,500 jobs will be lost, including jobs in hospitals, doctor’s offices, residential treatment facilities, laboratories, and many other health related facilities. There will be a loss of state income and sales tax revenues as a result of these job losses. When more than 65,000 individuals lose their MaineCare health insurance, they will end up in emergency rooms or foregoing treatment until they require the most expensive care. The result will be substantial increases in health insurance premiums that working people will have to absorb.

The governor and DHHS prepared this budget in isolation, without consulting any of the groups adversely impacted by this budget. Instead of working with all stakeholders to make more efficient use of Medicaid, the Administration chose to divide Maine people against each other and blame the “unfortunate” for the problems of the state.

There are far better solutions. I will vote against the budget in its current form, and I will urge all my colleagues to vote against it.

State Sen. Joseph Brannigan, a Portland Democrat, is serving his sixth term representing District 9, which includes parts of Westbrook and Portland.