Thursday, May 17, 2012

War Dollars Flow in Wash DC -- While Maine's Poor Get a Whole Lot Poorer

I work with low income youth in the most low income county in Maine. Our guidance director asked a young man how she could help him be more successful in school a couple of years back. He requested a space heater, because he was living in an unheated garage while attending high school and trying to write a novel. That year she had a college professor ask what percentage of students at our school she considered to be "at-risk" and she replied "All of them."

Even those we would consider middle class are one layoff or illness away from financial collapse. There are a few small business owners that constitute the affluent, and almost no professional class at all. Such people move away from our area, and nearly all the manufacturing jobs left for offshore tax havens years ago.

So it was with bitter irony that, on the day the U.S. House of "Representatives" considered spending $642 BILLION on "defense" next year, and a "GOP budget package [that] would cut $36 billion from the food stamp program by reducing benefits and tightening eligibility, $23.5 billion from Medicaid and children's health care, $4.2 billion from hospitals that serve the poor and uninsured, and $2.8 billion from a program that helps homeowners facing foreclosures," Maine's governor rushed to sign into law a budget with these provisions:
 o     Eliminates MaineCare coverage for another 14,500 low-income working parents (those with income between 100-133% FPL). As part of a compromise earlier this session, the legislature already voted to eliminate coverage for 14,000 working parents between 133-200% FPL.  This would double the amount of parents who will have coverage stripped from them and targets parents who are struggling with even fewer resources. 
Cuts to many programs supported by the Fund for a Healthy Maine, including:
o   Cuts $2M of funding for Head Start, which means that 216 very young children will no longer have access to Head Start and the vital supports it provides to these children and their families. Head Start is an investment in these children's future, as it provides early care and education, as well as health, nutrition, mental health, social and family supports;
o  Cuts nearly $2M of funding for the Child Care Subsidy Program.  This will lead to a deep cut in the availability of child care vouchers for families with incomes below 250% FPL and will negatively impact 1,400 children. The child care subsidy program helps parents with low income to afford the child care they need in order to work;
o  Eliminates funding ($2.6 M) for the Maine Families Home Visiting Program, which will eliminate vital services for Maine's most vulnerable infants and children.  Approximately 750 families will lose services focused on family substance abuse, domestic violence, prevention of abusive head trauma, and the health and safety of children;
 o  Eliminates funding ($401,430) for Family Planning; and
o  Eliminates $300,000 for dental services for people with low incomes and no other source of dental help.
o  The complete elimination of MaineCare coverage for 7,000 young adults (19 and 20 year olds) who are under 150% of the poverty level.
This last item means that if my school's former student develops pneumonia from living in an unheated garage, his health care will be obtained at the emergency room.

Because this is an emergency, make no mistake about that.

If you're in Maine, join us at the next Bring Our War $$ Home organizing meeting Saturday, June 9 at noon in Augusta. Help confused citizens connect the dots between out of control military spending, and the shredding of programs that support our most vulnerable young people.


chrisrushlau said...

Our social services are like our "national security policy" in having a common source: public inattention. Israel became our government-in-absentia because "nobody" wanted to stick their neck out, see what they were seeing, or talk about it. Leaving the poor ("whom you will have with you always," according to the New Testament, whatever that means or signifies) to specialists is like leaving government in general to specialists. If students, for example, were presented with education that made sense, colleges that esteemed honesty (which is the largest in-absentia class in the US?--the educated middle class), civil discourse that was a level playing field instead of a political minefield, there would be a social engine for people to use to work out their problems (like preventing head trauma in abuse situations). Save the public head space first. All hands to the ship.

chrisrushlau said...

I was chatting to a couple of Maine grandmothers today who were quite proud of the critical thinking skills being taught these days. Such inquiries as "what is the main idea of this paragraph?" and "what is the role of this character in this story" seemed, to them, to be flourishing in the elementary schools. When I asked why this didn't by itself lead to a smartening-up as opposed to the seeming dumbing-down of public policy, one of them acknowledged the problem. Perhaps the failure of the other grandmother to make an utterance on that point indicates the problem, maybe always the same problem, with democracy. It is not so much a matter of knowing how as of wanting.
What would happen to any public school teacher, I have long wondered, who said to the students the first day, "Why are you here?" and let the discussion flow where it will.