Welfare and its problems
Welfare is a far larger problem than most citizens realize. It is important for all to understand that the components of welfare are threefold — food stamps, temporary assistance for needy families or TANF, and Medicaid. It is important to recognize that Maine is the only state in the country that ranks in the top 10 for all three components. I now want to show you some cold hard statistics that exist in the towns of Knox County. Statistics are from the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
Are you surprised about the situation that exists in your town? These figures are shocking but accurate as of 2012. I believe that with the stagnant economy we have experienced for the past few years, these figures have probably worsened. Knox County is not alone in this situation as other counties face similar or worse statistics. It is up to each of us to make a commitment to help solve this unpleasant situation. I want to emphasize that I firmly and unequivocally believe that those truly in need should have help.
Maine is one of 11 states that have more people on welfare than they have people employed.
This situation is unsustainable and we must overcome this out of control problem. Some significant positive steps already have been implemented as follows:
1) Medicaid eligibility has been tightened from 200 percent to 133 percent of the poverty level.
2) Drug testing for individuals with convictions for drug offenses is in place.
3) A five-year cap has been established on TANF receipts with help starting immediately to get the education and work skills necessary to be independent.
More elements need consideration and implementation and I hope that some of you will have some positive recommendations in this area. It is very important to do this.
We have a major resource in our county, which in my opinion, could help reduce welfare dependency. It is the Mid-Coast School of Technology and currently it is underutilized. This facility is a jewel, as it helps provide our youth with many opportunities to learn a trade, which can provide a good income and a bright future. This school opens its doors to students from Camden Hills, Oceanside, and Medomak high schools and it is keenly important that all students have a clear understanding of the opportunities that Mid-Coast Tech offers. The reason that I feel strongly about this is that over the last two decades only 40 percent of Maine high school graduating seniors enroll in four-year colleges. In addition to the 40 percent that do enroll, approximately 16 percent of these drop out after their first year. These figures were reported from the Center for Education, Applied Research & Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine as of March 2013. With these facts in mind, I ask the following questions:
What can the high schools do to insure that the options for obtaining technical and industry training and certifications that are offered at Mid-Coast School of Technology are promoted?
Are there impediments in scheduling and graduation requirements that limit students’ access to Career and Technical Education?
What can we do to make sure students know about these options and are able to fit them in their schedules?
Is Mid-Coast invited to join the high school administrative teams for their 8th grade step-up events so that parents and students know about all the programming available for high school students? Mid-Coast should also be invited to have a presence at every high school open house to inform students and their parents about the variety of programming available at the tech school.
What can be done to encourage guidance counselors to have in-depth knowledge about Career Technical Education and the jobs that are available because there are not enough skilled workers to fill them? An example is the hundreds of machine tool jobs in Maine that pay well, but do not have enough skilled workers to fill the demand. In addition, there are many boatbuilding jobs in our communities and our local employers are expanding their capacity. Do guidance counselors know that the students can get training in composites at Mid-Coast Tech? This option in state of the art technology in boatbuilding is available in their Marine Training Program. How well informed are the students about this program that leads to good paying jobs?
Bear in mind that not all students have the financial resources to attend college today. A four-year education can cost up to $100,000 at the University of Maine. In addition, not every student has the aptitude or interest to attend a four-year college, but may be capable of learning a productive trade skill. For those students who do not attend the four-year school, what do they have to fall back on without a strong vocational training program? With these facts in mind, we recognize that many students who have only limited skills may continue to live with their parents and potentially can end up as a welfare participant.
Better utilization of the opportunities at Mid-Coast Tech will not solve all the problems of our welfare dependency in Knox County, but it will help open a path for more skilled individuals to enter the local work force. It is my fervent hope that all the schools involved will adopt a supportive view of the opportunities that exist at Mid-Coast School of Technology with its excellent facilities and well-trained, certified staff. I encourage concerned citizens to give thoughtful consideration to work together to better utilize this Knox County jewel and help develop an attitude of self-sufficiency in our young people.