Maine Voices: Congress needs to show compassion, respect and caring for others
As lawmakers move ahead in the budget process, we pray they will vote for the vulnerable and voiceless.
BY BONNY RODDEN / SPECIAL TO THE PRESS HERALD
FALMOUTH — There’s an inconvenient truth when it comes to cutting taxes: You have to make up the difference somewhere.
Congress is starting the nitty-gritty work of determining how to find revenue and reduce expenditures to offset the $1.5 trillion which it plans to cut in taxes over 10 years. During this process, the Maine Council of Churches and its nine member denominations have one overriding request: Make the federal budget just and humane.
Don’t let the poor go hungry, merely because they don’t make enough money. Don’t make them choose between paying bills and going to the doctor. Don’t destroy our sacred environment with a quick solution for today when the ramifications will last forever.
And to each senator and member of Congress, we say: Remember those values you learned in school, in your family and at church. Compassion. Respect. Love your neighbor. Please stand by those values and be strong enough to fight for your convictions.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King both remembered these values during recent votes in the U.S. Senate. Both senators fought repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would have hurt numerous households in Maine by eliminating important health care coverage. This vote must have been particularly difficult for Sen. Collins because she stood up to her own Republican Party. She showed her moxie and became a national celebrity, recognizing the devastating impact that cuts to the Medicaid program would have on low-income families and on the rural economy in Maine. She also broke with her party when she voted with Sen. King, an independent, in favor of an amendment to the recent Senate budget resolution that would have blocked oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to the Gwich’ins. Oil exploration and drilling in this unique piece of creation would severely undermine the subsistence life of the Gwich’ins and ultimately devastate this native people, whose ancestors have lived in Alaska for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, that amendment failed and now the sale of oil drilling leases in the wildlife refuge and elsewhere is under serious consideration by the Senate as a source of revenue to offset tax cuts. Raising revenue through yet more oil leases, particularly in ecological and culturally sensitive areas, not only exacerbates our dependence on fossil fuels but also does not prescribe to the value of loving our Gwich’in neighbor.
Under the budget proposals before Congress, cuts are slated for the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior as well as safety net programs vital to vulnerable communities in Maine: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, children’s health insurance, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Social Security insurance for the disabled. Even Pell grants, which help college students pay tuition, are on the chopping block.
The cuts to the EPA would hurt Maine’s ability to protect its water, air and health because the state relies so heavily on the EPA for its budget, particularly since the state’s environmental budget has been cut in recent years. More than 20 percent of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s budget and 100 of its staff are provided by the EPA.
The money supports nearly every aspect of the DEP’s work: licensing, permitting, enforcement, resource assessment, mitigation and compliance with the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and hazardous waste and other environmental laws. Cuts make it difficult to protect our citizenry from toxins in our water and air and hazardous waste.
Cuts to safety net programs would be particularly challenging in Maine, since the state would be asked to either make up the difference or not provide for those in need. Maine’s children would likely suffer the most. The percentage of children living in “deep poverty,” defined as families of three surviving on $10,000 a year or less, increased in Maine at a rate eight times greater than the national average between 2011 and 2015. However, governmental assistance intended to get families out of poverty was cut substantially. This is a trend that should be reversed, not amplified.
As Congress moves ahead with the budget process in the upcoming days, we urge our elected officials to remember these important values: compassion, respect and caring for each other. We pray that revenue raised will bear in mind our neighbors’ plight and that expenditures cut will not be at the expense of those in need. We pray that our leaders will have the courage to vote for the least of us, the vulnerable and the voiceless.