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Earlier this month, the Commission on Paid Family and Medical Leave held its final meeting to discuss its findings and recommendations for developing a statewide Paid Family and Medical Leave program in Maine.

The commission is expected to present its findings and propose legislation early 2023. But there is also a proposed ballot initiative launched by Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine People’s Alliance to address the urgent need for a comprehensive and accessible policy.

The good news is that while differences in approach exist, both the commission and the ballot initiative’s organizers agree on a few key items for a strong Paid Family Leave policy to work in Maine.

They include:

  • All workers—full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers must be covered by the policy.

  • Self-employed workers will be allowed to opt into the program.

  • It must provide workers with a 16-week maximum total combined limit and a 12-week maximum limit for a particular qualifying need.

  • It must allow any Maine employer to provide a private plan option that is substantially equivalent.

These consistencies demonstrate a universal understanding that working families are being stretched thin and need real support. They also show that the benefits of PFML vastly outweigh the risks for both employers and employees.

The bottom line is that Mainers should be able to spend time with their newborn, take care of themselves or a loved one, or take time off for a major life event without risking their paycheck. We look forward to seeing a strong proposal from the Maine Legislature in the upcoming session.

For a full comparison of the PFML commission's program design recommendations and the proposed ballot initiative, visit the Maine Legislature page here.

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As this year draws to a close, we are celebrating the progress we made in 2022. The Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan expanded workforce training programs in industries hit hardest by the pandemic, helped small business owners cover health insurance premiums for their employees, and invested in strengthening our vital forestry sector. The Maine Legislature passed laws that will create more affordable housing, simplify enrollment in affordable healthcare plans, and protect our elections from partisan interference. Over 850,000 Mainers received $850 checked from the state government to offset inflation, and thousands of low and moderate-income families benefited when the Earned Income Tax Credit nearly doubled. And thousands of small businesses across the state saw one-time utility assistance credits to address rising energy costs.

But our work is far from over. Mainers for Working Families will be working to ensure the Maine Legislature delivers results on these critical measures next year:

  • Heating assistance: The skyrocketing cost of heating fuel this year matched with fewer available state resources for heating assistance is leaving many Mainers without the resources to stay warm this winter. It is imperative that the Maine Legislature do whatever it takes to guarantee every Maine has affordable fuel, whether it be oil, kerosene, propane, electric, or wood.

  • Comprehensive Paid Family and Medical Leave: The Legislature’s commission tasked with developing a statewide Paid Family and Medical Leave program is expected to present its findings and propose legislation early next year. But for the program to be truly effective, we must ensure that it is comprehensive and accessible, crafted with every Mainer in mind. This means twelve weeks of paid leave to care for a sick loved one, welcome a child, or recover from illness or injury. For more on our design goals for a PFML program, check out these recommendations from the Maine Family Leave Coalition.

  • Permanent absentee voting: Despite the many benefits of absentee voting and its widespread usage across the state, Maine does not have a permanent absentee voter list. Establishing such a list would make voting easier and more accessible for thousands of Mainers and increase voter participation. It would also significantly reduce the cost of staffing and equipping traditional polling places, bringing financial savings to our municipalities and reducing the administrative burden on our election officials.

  • Child care subsidies: Governor Mills announced last month that the administration will invest $5.5 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to support Maine child care, providing one-time $10,000 stipends to child care centers licensed between October 2020 and September 2023. This is in addition to $74 million in COVID-19 Child Care Stabilization Grants from the Department of Health and Human Services granted between October 2021 and October 2022, which helped child care centers pay their staff and cover COVID-related expenses. These investments are critical and must continue to provide working families with access to affordable child care. We are pushing our leaders in Augusta to continue this level of funding beyond what has been allocated for COVID relief.

  • Free community college: This year, Governor Mills included two years of free community college in the state budget for high school graduates between 2020 and 2023. The goal of this initiative was to address workforce shortages, particularly in high-demand industries, and the state’s community college system saw an 11 percent increase in applications over the summer. But this option shouldn’t be limited to students from four particular graduating classes. Every Mainer should have the opportunity to pursue a higher education, regardless of financial status. We’re urging Governor Mills and the Maine Legislature to make two years of tuition-free community college a permanent part of the state’s budget.

We are looking to our leaders in Augusta to do what is right for Maine’s working families in the year ahead. That means strengthening support to basic rights like health and education and ensuring that Mainers have the programs we need to move ourselves and our state forward.

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As we’ve pointed out in the past, absentee voting remains one of many ways Maine voters can make their voices heard at the ballot. The recent November 8th midterm elections saw more than 250,000 Mainers utilize this voting method.

So what is absentee voting and why would Mainers benefit from a permanent option?

What Is Absentee Voting?

Absentee voting allows all eligible voters to vote outside a polling place once they request a ballot, which is delivered to them via postal mail. This option is available to uniformed service voters and overseas voters as well. You can request a ballot on the Bureau of Corporations, Elections & Commissions website.

What Are The Benefits of Absentee Voting?

Absentee voting has proven to be a simple and convenient option for many voters. For instance, since Maine has no-excuse absentee voting, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created an increase in absentee ballot requests. During the 2020 election, 532,272 absentee ballots were issued compared to only 196,710 absentee ballots two years prior.

Today, absentee voting remains a safe and convenient option for individuals who may be immunocompromised or prefer to vote outside of a polling place for other reasons. That includes voters with disabilities, who can always request an accessible absentee ballot that can be delivered electronically.

The Future Of Absentee Voting In Maine

Despite the many benefits of absentee voting, Maine does not have a permanent list. Making absentee voting permanent would significantly reduce the cost of staffing and equipping traditional polling places. This would bring financial savings to our municipalities and reduce the administrative burden on our election officials. Not to mention the benefit of making voting easier, while increasing voter participation across the state.

Arizona, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, Virginia and the District of Columbia all send absentee ballots automatically for each election, and it’s high time Maine joined those states. Mainers For Working Families believes our democracy is better off when it is made accessible to everyday Americans. That’s why we support future efforts to secure a permanent absentee voting option in Maine.

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