What is happening in Augusta?

By Rep. Valli Geiger | Apr 08, 2021

The Maine Legislature met at the Augusta Civic Center yesterday for a 13 hour session, which ended successfully in the passage of part one of the State’s two year budget. Part One contains all the ongoing expenses of state government: current programs, current staff, Medicaid expenses, funds to education and to cities and towns.

An estimated 90% of government funding continues year to year. By passing this budget now, 90 days before the end of the session, we have ensured stability for Maine people after the unstable year we have just gone through. There is now no threat of a government shutdown, which happens if the two sides of the legislature cannot agree on a budget. Unlike the Federal government, state government cannot run in the red.

With everyday expenses settled, the legislator will now focus on Part Two of the budget. What programs do we want to expand? What new programs are needed? Where will the money come from for these? What should Maine do with the over $1 billion in COVID-19 Rescue Funds coming to Maine? What will the Federal Government allow us to do with those funds?

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed ongoing problems in the State of Maine. Many are not new but made worse with a collapse in the economy.

For example, most people receive their health insurance through their employment, a pandemic leading to a shutdown, meant people lost both their job and their insurance in the midst of a serious virus.

This has always been true, but to see this twin loss of jobs and insurance hit millions of people at once, brings to the forefront the questionable wisdom of tying insurance to employment.

With the collapse of the economy, came the widespread loss of housing for many. While state and federal moratoriums on eviction and foreclosure have helped, they have been temporary, with time gaps and required navigating difficult, complex programs for assistance for renters, home owners and landlords. Lack of housing for Maine people continues to be a growing issue and now is a crisis.

For example: Penobscot Bay Medical Center has an 11% vacancy rate for nurses. There are many reasons for this, but one of them, is new nurses cannot find affordable housing within commuting distance of Pen Bay.

Starter homes for first time home buyers have become practically non-existent. Rental vacancies are close to 0%. Affluent out of state buyers seeking safety from the virus, have flocked to the state, scooping up most housing on the market.

As vaccination rates increase, as cases of COVID-19 start to fall, as the economy re-opens, our job together is to build back better. We must create better, more sustainable systems of education, access to broadband, housing and health insurance.

Of course, our existential crisis of Climate change and the increasing dramatic changes in weather, weather events and the loss of habitat and loss in the fellow creatures we share our small planet with.

We must create social and environmental systems that don’t all collapse at once when a giant stressor comes. The legislature is in the midst of figuring out how we do this. We welcome your ideas, collaboration and support.

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