2017 Prevented Budget Cuts and Legislative Victories

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2017 Proposed Budget Cuts Prevented and Legislative Victories

When the legislature convened in January, it faced a Governor’s budget that proposed dozens of harmful cuts to the MaineCare, General Assistance, TANF and SNAP (Food Stamp) programs. The strong advocacy of hundreds of caring Mainers who came to the State House and wrote or called legislators protected these essential programs and the people who rely on them from harmful cuts. Every single one of the proposed cuts listed below was eliminated from the final budget.

Your hard work prevented ALL of the following cuts:

MaineCare:

  • Reduction in MaineCare parent eligibility from 100% to 40% of the federal poverty level. This would have eliminated MaineCare coverage for more than 20,000 parents. These parents will now remain eligible for MaineCare.
  • Elimination of MaineCare coverage for 19 and 20 year olds. This would have eliminated MaineCare coverage for 5,500 young adults. These young adults will now remain eligible for MaineCare.
  • Repeal of MaineCare temporary coverage. This would have ended the requirement that the Department of Health and Human Services must determine eligibility for MaineCare within 45 days or provide a temporary MaineCare card if they have not. Decisions must still be made within 45 days.

Food Assistance (SNAP/Food Stamps):

  • Denial of SNAP benefits for life to people with a felony drug conviction. People who have served their time and who have reentered the community can still get help with food assistance if they meet all other SNAP eligibility requirements.
  • Prohibition on Maine seeking federal waivers to extend SNAP benefits for more than 3 months for certain people in areas with high unemployment. The state is still able to request waivers from the 3-month time limit in areas that have high rates of unemployment.  This is not likely to happen under this current Administration, but could under the next Governor.

General Assistance:

  • Total elimination of the General Assistance program. Maine people will continue to have access to this safety net of last resort.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF):

  • Reduction in TANF lifetime time limit from 60-36 months. 1,500 children would have lost benefits that help families meet their basic needs from this change. The current 60-month time limit will not be changed. 
  • Denial of TANF benefits for life for any parent with a felony drug conviction. Parents who have served their time and who have reentered the community will still get help meeting their families’ basic needs if they meet all other TANF eligibility requirements.
  • Establishment of an asset test and an 18-month time limit for Transitional Child Care for families leaving TANF for work. Families leaving TANF for work will still have access to the child care they need until their gross income exceeds 250% of the federal poverty level. This is the current law. There was no change to Transitional Child Care.
  • New pre-eligibility job-readiness requirement before a family can get TANF. Families will continue to get TANF without delay. As has been the case they will be subject to a work requirement once they begin getting TANF unless they have good cause – NOT before they start receiving assistance from the program as was proposed.
  • Extension of punishment to all family members, including children, the first time a family is sanctioned. This would have overturned the current rule that requires that only the parent and not the children lose benefits on their first sanction.
  • Limits on Alternative Aid. This proposal would have prevented families that reached their TANF time limit from getting Alternative Aid and limited access to the program to only once in 24 months. Now, families that reach the TANF time limit will continue to be eligible for Alternative Aid. Families will also continue to eligible for Alternative Aid once a year if they need it.
  • Elimination of all Good Cause related to ASPIRE Participation, except for domestic violence.  Good Cause will continue to protect people from sanctions in the TANF/ASPIRE Program. Although this change was prevented, this law was altered this session to include some of the individual good cause reasons into a broader definition of good cause. We do not believe that this will cause more people to lose benefits. Please call us if you have any problems getting good cause in the future.
  • Limits on the length of time that a parent can participate in the Parents as Scholars (PaS) program and the number of hours that they must participate. People should be able to continue to participate in the PaS program as they do now. There should not be any change in the number of hours a parent is required to participate or any new limit on the time that parents have to complete their degrees.

Programs assisting lawfully-present immigrants, mainly people seeking asylum:

  • Elimination of General Assistance (GA) for lawfully present immigrants. This would have prevented asylum seekers and certain other immigrants from receiving General Assistance to meet their basic needs. This would have immediately impacted approximately 1,000 individuals. These individuals will now continue to be eligible for GA.
  • Elimination of state-funded SNAP coverage for certain lawfully present immigrants.  This would have eliminated food assistance for 693 people. These people will now continue to be eligible for SNAP.
  • Elimination of state-funded TANF for certain lawfully present immigrants. This would have eliminated TANF benefits for 136 individuals, including children, which helps families keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. These families will continue to be eligible for TANF.
  • Elimination of state-funded SSI for lawfully present immigrants that are over age 65 or have a disability. This would have eliminated this basic cash assistance for 116 aged or disabled lawfully present immigrants. These individuals will continue to be eligible for SSI.

Head Start:

  • Cut to Head Start of approximately $2 Million dollars. Not only did this cut not happen, but the Head Start program will get an additional $1 million dollars to continue a prior amount of one-time funding. This will allow Head Start programs statewide to serve additional children over the next two years.

 


 

Important Legislative Victories to Strengthen Anti-Poverty Programs

Several key sections of the LIFT bill were included in the budget and have now become law—thanks to Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) for her diligent work to make this happen:

  • The first TANF increase in 16 years is now law! Beginning October 1, 2017 TANF families will see a 20% TANF increase. All 4,500 TANF and Parents as Scholars families will see an increase in their monthly benefit. For example, a family of 3 will see their benefit increase by nearly $100 dollars, from $485 a month, to $582.
  • TANF benefits will be increased annually beginning October 1, 2018 to reflect annual increases in the cost of living.
  • More help for TANF families with high housing costs! The TANF “housing special need” will both increase AND become available to more families. This is in addition to the increase to the basic grant described above. Here’s how it will work. The 1,000 families that now get the housing special needs payment will see this monthly payment increase from $200 to $300 a month. For example, a family of three that qualifies for this special housing payment along with the new maximum TANF monthly benefit will get a total monthly benefit of $882 instead of their current $685 beginning October 1, 2017. In addition, the housing special need will now be available to families with housing costs that equal or exceed 50% of their income. The current rules require housing costs to be at least 75% of their income in order to qualify for this additional benefit. This change means that an estimated 480 families will now qualify for the housing special need for the first time. 
  • The Working Cars for Working Families Program will help low income families with children get to work! The budget allocated $1.5 Million dollars a year for four years ($6 M total) to create a pilot program to purchase reliable used cars for working families with children eligible for  TANF, Parents as Scholars and Alternative Aid. We estimate that this pilot will provide approximately 150 cars a year to working families in each year of this pilot program.
  • More heating assistance for low income families with children! The original LIFT bill provided funds for heat pumps to lower heating costs for low income families with children. Instead of this, the final budget includes an additional $3 million dollars a year to provide fuel assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to low income families with children. 

Other successful legislation that will help low-income families with children:

  • LD 336 will ensure that two-parent families have equal access to TANF benefits. Thanks to Representative Dale Denno (D-Cumberland), two-parent families will now qualify for TANF under the same rules that apply to single parent families. Previously, a two parent family would only qualify if one parent was incapacitated or unemployed. Now, DHHS will only look at the income of these families to determine TANF eligibility. We estimate that just over 500 low income two-parent families will now qualify for TANF because of this change.
  • LD 481 will reduce the welfare “cliff” by rewarding TANF families that get and keep a job. One of the biggest complaints from TANF families that get a job is the punishment they feel when their benefits are reduced because they went to work. Thanks to Representative Trey Stewart (R-Presque Isle) for taking an important step to reduce this work penalty. Representative Stewart’s bill would give TANF families that get a job a $400 dollar check at the end of four months if they remain employed. This would take some of the pressure and additional cost off family budgets. 

Important Note:  LD 481 has been vetoed by the Governor. When the legislature returns later this month we will urge lawmakers to override this veto. 

  • LD 358 will give MaineCare health insurance to an additional 1,000 low income children. This bill, presented by Representative Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta) has been included in the budget. It will eliminate the discriminatory provision that has barred the low income children of Maine state employees from qualifying for MaineCare coverage.    

The following bills have yet to pass, but still might pass before the session is finally over. Each of these represents positive reforms that could help people in poverty. They are currently on the “Appropriations Table” waiting for that Committee to decide whether or not to fund them.  If funded, they will have a final vote in the Senate and if successful will go to the Governor’s desk for his signature or veto.

  • LD 106, An Act To Provide MaineCare Coverage for Dental Services to Adults with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder (Rep. Tepler -  D - Topsham)
  • LD 1070, Resolve, To Alleviate Hunger in Rural Maine in Areas of High Unemployment (Senator Jackson – D - Aroostook)
  • LD 1301, An Act To Improve Access to Preventive, Cost-saving Dental Services (Rep. Martin  – D - Eagle Lake)
  • LD 1008, An Act To Establish the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Populations ( Rep. Talbot-Ross  - D-Portland)

We will update you on the status of these bills when the legislature is finally over.

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