By Carol McCracken (Post # 729)
Portland City Councilor John Anton was one of the first up to speak in a long line of testifiers before the Joint Session of the Appropriations & Financial Affairs & Health & Human Services Committee on the Governor’s proposed changes to his budget. Even with each speaker allowed 2 minutes, the testimony was expected to extend long into the afternoon. The budget is expected to be voted on in late April or May.
Councilor Anton testified that the proposed call to reduce the “upper limit state reimbursement” level for General Assistance from 90% to 75% , as well as other changes to other state and federal programs, will create a cost shift to the Portland taxpayer in the amount of $650,000. “These changes will result in an increased tax burden for the local property tax payer,” Anton said. “The City of Portland operates the largest General Assistance Program in the state, 42% of all statewide expenditures, not because we choose to, but because we are an economic hub and service center.” Anton went on to explain to the Committee that because of the methodology involved, Portland actually receives far less than that 90% figure.
Anton cited a recent article in a newspaper in midcoast Maine in which it was reported that the Salvation Army will buy people seeking shelter a bus ticket to Portland to stay in our shelters. City officials have noted that the number of individuals seeking assistance is up more than 30% in the last year. This increase is a reflection in the economics of the times; not an overly generous GA program.
Portland is experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of individuals seeking assistance for the first time. These individuals have strong and long-term work histories and professional skill sets including secondary and graduate degrees from a variety of fields including: Computer technology, management, communications, health care, to name some of them. Most of these people own their own homes. In his testimony, Anton went on to say that more than 90% of the assistance granted in Portland is for food and shelter – the basics for living.
Prior to the testimony, there was a large rally in the State House – Hall of Flags room. Hill resident Ben Dudley, executive director of EngageMaine, emceed the large turnout, many of them dressed in red AARP t-shirts. Dudley is a former State Representative from 1998-2006. Standing in the rally crowd was Erica DuPont, an Augusta resident, who expects to graduate this May with a BS degree in Mental Health. She has already had a job offer, but expects to go onto graduate school for special education. She was able to accomplish this under the TANF program which stands to suffer under the Governor’s proposed budget.