The long march to block LePage’s new welfare reforms starts today

Room 228 at the State House will be the center of activity today as the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee begins hours and days and weeks of deliberations over Gov. Paul LePage administration’s latest proposals for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The committee will gather to hear testimony beginning at 10 a.m. The vast majority of the people traveling to the State House today and into the future to discuss the budget will be there to oppose various portions of LePage’s plan because that’s how this works: The governor has proposed changes to the status quo and that will attract far more opponents than supporters.

It will be months before the committee finishes hearing testimony and begins making decisions about what recommendations it will offer to the full Legislature, which much enact the budget by June 30 or risk a government shutdown. That means either gaining LePage’s support and signature or overriding his veto with a two-thirds votes in both chambers of the Legislature — which this budget will require anyway for the measure to go into effect in time.

Lawmakers will have a lot to look at. Since the beginning of February, 172 pieces of written testimony have been submitted and are posted online.

The narrative over the next few days will go a little like this: LePage’s proposed biennial budget, which includes cutting more than $65 million from anti-poverty programs that provide health care, food and shelter for low-income Mainers, also aims to provide millions in tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our state.

That’s based on a quote from a Maine Equal Justice Partners statement released this morning. MEJP advocates for services and support for low-income Mainers and is one of the LePage administration’s chief foils when it comes to social service and welfare reform.

The LePage administration seeks to continue its years-long push to eliminate services for what it calls able-bodied adults by putting further restrictions on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — reducing the lifetime cap on receiving those benefits from five years to three — and by trimming thousands of Mainers out of the state’s Medicaid program.

The counter-narrative will resemble: Maine has created a culture of dependency by being too generous in the past with public assistance. The state must break that cycle while providing incentives for entrepreneurs to push Maine toward prosperity with private-market initiatives.

The LePage administration said it’s intent on helping people, not hurting them.

“We’re not taking away something from people,” said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett on WVOM this morning. “We are empowering them to support themselves.”

Realistically, Republicans and Democrats already know how they’ll vote on the majority of LePage’s proposals and on most items, there is little chance that the stream of Mainers before the Appropriations Committee will change their minds significantly. Still, pulling the budget proposal apart line-by-line and identifying who will be affected is an important part of the process.

Want to listen? Click here. No time for that? Keep it tuned to the Bangor Daily News. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • LePage administration says SNAP waiver request is key to fighting obesity in Maine. Bennett said the state’s application to the federal government to ban the purchase of junk food with food stamps will help Maine fight obesity. Maine has tried and failed to restrict SNAP benefits that way in the past but Bennett said the administration’s hope is renewed since the election of Republican Donald Trump as president.
  • Progressive activists are calling restaurants to urge them to drop affiliation with the National Restaurant Association and its state affiliate. According to the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, it was motivated in part by Maine Restaurant Association CEO Steve Hewins sent a letter to Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in support of Andrew Puzder, who withdrew as President Donald Trump’s labor secretary nominee last week. Activists are tracking their calls in a spreadsheet.
  • The University of New England will name its new president today. UNE President Danielle Ripich and others will announce the name of the new president today at 11 a.m. at the university’s Portland campus. The new president will take office on July 1, 2017. Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins is scheduled to be tour the university’s Oral Health Center beginning at 2 p.m. today. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Reading list

How my mother-in-law whistles like a ‘manly man’

When I started dating my now-wife some 25 years ago as a high school sophomore, I was obviously highly interested in her but also curious about her parents. These would be the people, after all, who would control my access to her and decide if we were trustworthy enough to be left alone for a minute or an hour. (We weren’t.)

One of my first impressions of them was formed from seeing decorative signs that used to hang in the screen house by their pool, which they must’ve bought during a trip through some of Pennsylvania’s more racy villas such as Intercourse, Blue Ball and Bird-in-Hand.

Briefly, I thought these signs meant her parents would be “liberal” about my access to their daughter but the first time her mother saw us kissing and “clutching each other,” as she used to put it, I found out how wrong I was. She put her fingers in her mouth and produced an ear-splitting, spine-jarring whistle that cut through our moment like a medieval battle ax at the head-chopping block.

I always wondered how she made that noise, which registers in my memory blazing and red. Until now. The BDN’s Sarah Cottrell has tried to help with her blog post, “How to whistle with your fingers like a manly man.”

I’ve followed the instructions and so far, failed. To be fair, Sarah warned us that nothing will happen for the first 5,000 attempts.

It will take considerably more practice to be as manly as my mother-in-law. Here’s her soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.