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UWGP Legislative Update, 2/22/19

Today we launched our inaugural Legislative Update, a bi-weekly advocacy and public policy newsletter. Recognizing that laws and policies have the power to strengthen or harm individuals, families, and entire communities, United Way of Greater Portland (UWGP) engages in public policy and advocacy to address barriers and inequities faced by vulnerable populations to improve education, financial stability, and health outcomes in our community.

We hope to keep you informed about policy and advocacy developments that are of interest to UWGP and you. To get the Legislative Update delivered to your inbox every other week, email Ronald Jarrett, United Way of Greater Portland’s Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, at advocacy@unitedwaygp.org.

State Budget

On Friday, February 8, 2019, Governor Janet Mills released her 2020-2021 Budget. This $8 billion budget proposal covers functions of state government for two years beginning July 1. The Legislature will soon begin public hearings on the proposed budget. This newsletter identifies three parts of the budget that UWGP believes are important to build a thriving community for all:

1) Early Care & Education; 2) Financial Stability; and 3) Access to Healthcare (including mental health and substance use disorder treatment).

While UWGP is still evaluating all the provisions of the proposed budget, and have not yet taken any positions, the budget does address issues that we know impact a good quality of life for all.

Early Care & Education

Budget Highlight: The proposed budget lays the groundwork for a four-year plan to fund voluntary Universal Pre-K with a $7 million allocation in Year 2 to expand Pre-K seats. The budget also provides $18.5 million to Child Development Services.

Why is this important? Because 80% of brain development happens between birth and three years old, which makes access to early, high-quality Pre-K, healthy physical development, nurturing relationships, and exposure to language and interactions critically important.

Financial Security

Budget Highlight: To address the crippling effects of runaway student debt, the budget invests $3 million in scholarships funds through the Maine State Grant Program.

Why is this important? Because having manageable expenses impacts a household’s ability to generate disposable income to build emergency savings and create long-term assets for financial stability.

Healthcare

Budget Highlight: One of Governor Mills’ first acts was to sign an Executive Order to implement Medicaid expansion. As a result, 3,000 Mainers gained access to affordable health care coverage, and 70,000 total are estimated to receive it. Drawing on existing general funds will cover the state’s share. The proposed budget also creates a Medicaid Reserve Account with a dedicated $29 million.

The proposed budget provides $5 million to prevent overdoses and expand access to treatment and support recovery efforts. Additionally, the budget proposes $10 million toward tobacco and nicotine use prevention efforts among teens and young adults and helps rebuild Maine’s public health infrastructure.

Why is this important? To reduce deaths by suicide and substance use disorders, we need to strengthen access to and delivery of health care so that people are better able to address their physical and behavioral health needs.

In upcoming Legislative Updates we will inform you as to the issues we plan to take a position on. Email advocacy@unitedwaygp.org to subscribe.

EITC Awareness

UWGP joined Advocates gathered at the State House on January 24, 2019, for the 13th Annual Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day. CA$H Maine (of which UWGP is a member), New Ventures Maine, and others gathered to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Activities included meeting with legislators to discuss the importance of filing taxes for low-income Mainers, as well as this year’s efforts to expand and strengthen the EITC.

“The EITC is an effective program to help lift families out of poverty in Cumberland County. More than 17,000 families get the federal EITC, with an average refund of over $2,000,” said Beth Campbell, Sr. Director, Financial Stability.

Mainers who worked last year and had income of less than $54,884 may be eligible for the federal EITC. Eligibility can mean up to a $6,431 refund for some filers. On average, federal EITC adds $2,106 to Maine refunds.

Tax filers in Maine also are eligible for a state-level EITC, in addition to the federal credit. This legislative session, Senator Vitelli has introduced LD 104: An Act to Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit in Maine. This bill would lower the age of eligibility from 25 to 18 and increase the credit from 5% to 15% of the federal earned income tax credit. This bill would expand eligibility to working Mainers who are currently locked out of this powerful anti-poverty tool. It currently awaits consideration by the Taxation Committee.

UWGP has endorsed this bill. If you’d like to speak in support of this bill, please contact Ronald Jarrett at advocacy@unitedwaygp.org.

To access our free tax toolkit that includes document reminders, overlooked tax credits, volunteer in person tax assistance, and online services to file your taxes click here.

Take ACTION Now!

LD 421
All infants and toddlers need access to healthy food. To deny children access to healthy food creates financial and developmental challenges for their families and by extension, our communities. Support LD 421 to broaden access to healthy food at farmers’ markets for WIC recipients. Contact advocacy@unitedwaygp.org to share your story and register your support.

UWGP has endorsed this bill. If you’d like to speak in support of this bill, please contact Ronald Jarrett at advocacy@unitedwaygp.org

UWGP Legislative Watch List

UWGP has embraced Thrive2027, our community’s 10-year effort to achieve measurable progress in the areas of education, financial stability, and health. UWGP is playing its part to ensure the success of Thrive2027 by supporting public policies like those included in the following Legislative Watch List:

Goal 1: Give Kids a Strong Start

  • LD 468, “An Act to Require That the State Fund on an Ongoing Basis a Minimum of 50 Percent of the Costs Associated with Public Preschool Programs” (Introduced by Rep. Farnsworth)

Goal 2: Empower Neighbors to Thrive – Not Just Survive

  • LD 421, “Resolve, To Amend the State Plan Regarding the Processing of Vouchers under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children by Farmers’ Markets” (Introduced by Rep. Terry)
    STATUS UPDATE: Public Hearing scheduled for Monday, February 25, 2019 9:30 AM, Cross Building, Room 209 Have Questions? Contact advocacy@unitedwaygp.org.
  • LD 104, “An Act To Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit in Maine” (Introduced by Sen. Vitelli)

Goal 3: Help Us All Live Longer, Better

  • LD 227, “An Act To Strengthen Maine’s Public Health Infrastructure” (Introduced by Rep. Perry)
  • LD 266, “An Act To Eliminate the 2-year Limit on MaineCare Coverage for Approved Drugs for Opioid Use Disorder” (Introduced by Sen. L. Sanborn)
  • LD 447 “An Act Regarding the Substance Use Disorder Continuum of Care” (Introduced by Rep. Gratwick)

Thank you for all you do to build a stronger community.

If you would like to know how you can be an Advocate, please contact us at advocacy@unitedwaygp.org.