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.