Care for the needs of children and families is a priority of the Church, indeed children are central to our mission and recently we put our faith in action in Augusta. The Maine Episcopal Justice Network shared our support for legislation (LD - 1475 An Act to Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments in Families Today) that will help combat societal and economic conditions in Maine that are preventing children from achieving their full potential and holds families together.
One of the most important challenges facing Maine lawmakers, and all Maine people, is the need to reverse the number of children falling into deep poverty. The percentage of Maine children living in deep poverty-on less than $10,000 a year for family of three-has increased at a rate eight times greater than the national average since 2011. Even worse, little has been done to address the underlying reasons why families struggle economically.
The testimony affirmed our support for and improvement of the state network of programs to reduce the numbers of those living in poverty, to support workers' efforts to achieve self-sufficiency, and to ensure continuing benefits for those who require a safety net to feed their families.
The proposed legislation takes a very different approach, by focusing on meeting basic needs, eliminating barriers to economic self-sufficiency and providing greater opportunity to education. This bill requires the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to take steps to ensure that the state's anti-poverty programs, like TANF, work to reduce poverty and improve outcomes for families. While we have seen massive cuts to Maine's safety net in recent years, we've also seen hunger increase, health outcomes worsen, and children in deep poverty skyrocket when compared to the rest of the nation.
Every proposal in this bill would be paid for with existing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) dollars that the state either already has in hand or that it receives on an annual basis. More than $150 million in TANF funds intended to help low income families with children have gone unspent in recent years. This bill would employ these funds, as intended, to work to reduce poverty for families with kids.
The bill would establish benchmarks and goals with legislative oversight to hold government accountable for programs and policies that actually work to reduce poverty and to increase opportunity for low-income families. Public dollars should be put to good use and yield positive results as taxpayers expect. This will allow data to drive policy making around welfare programs. LD 1475 calls for accountability of government. Accountability should be a two-way street. Instead of punishing and shaming those seeking help, our government should focus first and foremost on creating an effective path out of poverty for Maine families who are living on the brink.
Our testimony asked legislators to share the blessings we have for the good of the whole; to remember who we are - that we are infinitely valuable children of God; and to see the infinite value of the child of God in each of our neighbors. The burden is shared comprehensively, and yet what we do we do with God
s help. And so we seek balance once again between our life of faith and our works of action, our prayer and our service, as we love God and neighbor as self. May we have the grace to act as we are being called and peace as we take each step.
If you want to learn how you can add your support to this important legislation please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org - we still have time to make a difference for Maine kids and families.