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Maine

Left in the Cold — Utility Shut-Offs and State Responses

Working families struggling to make utility payments are feeling the chill as companies shut off their gas and electricity. Shut-offs are up across dozens of states, particularly Michigan where unemployment is high, with a 22 percent increase in the number of families left without heat or electricity. The state's Heating and Warmth Fund, which helps those in need pay delinquent heating bills, has seen a record 42 percent increase in people applying for heating payment assistance.

Paid Sick Days on Ballot in Milwaukee

Milwaukee has a paid sick leave referendum on the ballot for November that would allow employees to take leave for medical treatment, preventive care, or diagnosis for themselves, as well as to care for a close family member who is sick or who needs diagnosis or preventive care. Additionally, employees would be allowed to use the time to deal with domestic violence or sexual assault (for example, using accrued time to flee to safety.)  Employees at firms with 10 workers or less could accumulate up to 40 hours, whereas larger companies would have to provide up to 72 hours of paid sick leave.

Spurring Broadband Development through Maine's ConnectME Grants

On September 4, the ConnectME Authority awarded its second round of grant awards to bring broadbandcommunications services to unserved areas in Maine. More than $1.75 million was awarded and service is expected to be expanded to an estimated 12,500 residents. "This second round of grantsshows that the ConnectME initiative is spurring private investment inbroadband and cellular service across Maine," said Governor Baldacci. "These investments are enabling people in rural areas enhanced accessto technology, transforming our state economy, and expanding businessopportunities for more Mainers."

Helping Poor and Working Families Build Financial Assets

By one estimate, the federal government spent over $367 billion in 2005 aloneon subsidizing Americans' retirement savings and tax breaks to build upother assets like buying a home.  Unfortunately, those subsidies gooverwhelmingly to those Americans who already have high-incomes; almostnone of it goes to the poorest Americans who need the most helpbuilding the financial assets that can lead to long-term economicopportunities and security.

States Still Leading Feds on Minimum Wage

With food and gas prices rising rapidly, low-wage workers can at least welcome an increase in the federal minium wage to $6.55 per hour scheduled to go into effect on July 24th.  Even better, a number of states will also be increasing their minimum wage rates even higher than the federal rate:

Maine's Dirigo Health Faces Off Against Big Business

Politics, particularly in small states, makes for strange bedfellows. The latest effort to derail Maine's first-in-the-nation 2003 Dirigo Health Reform initiative bears this out.  The president of the State Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the Dirigo Health Board of Directors is now treasurer of a lobbyist-driven political action committee waging a campaign to sap Dirigo Health of its funding.

2008 Session Roundups: Maine

Maine lawmakers addressed a $190 million shortfall with unfortunate cuts to education and health care services for low-income and indigent Mainers, but fortunately continued to support the state's health care reform efforts.  Lawmakers also passed a minimum wage increase from $7 to $7.50 over two years, strong protections for children from toxic chemicals, legislation to combine the state and county corrections systems while capping property taxes that will fund the new system at 2008 levels, and a model cable franchise agreement that municipalities can use to negotiate local video franchises.

Families USA's State Reports Document Bush's Assault on State Economies and the Consequences of Being Uninsured

Absent a national health care policy, states have found ways to expand the reach of Medicaid by covering more low-income, senior and disabled people and expanding the list of covered services.  Because of state action, 58 million Americans now have health coverage they would not otherwise possess.  To push back on the states, the Bush Administration put forward several new Medicaid regulations last year that, if implemented, will shift the burden and costs to states.  This will result in reduced benefits for millions of Americans unless already cash-strapped states find some way to pick up the slack - to the tune of $50 billion over five years.

Stopping Profiteering in "Not-for-Profit" Hospitals

It's counter-intuitive, but many US not-for-profit hospitals have bigger profits than their for-profit counterparts.  Last week, a Wall Street Journal article discussed the growth of profits in the not-for-profit hospital sector and the welcome attention this is garnering from federal policymakers.  As reported, the combined net income of the 50 largest not-for-profit hospitals across the US increased nearly eight-fold from 2001 to 2006 to a staggering $4.27 billion. 77% of the 2,033 not-for-profit hospitals in the US routinely make money, compared with 61% of for-profit hospitals.

Maine Senate Enacts National Popular Vote

On April 2nd, the Maine Senate passed a National Popular Vote bill, LD 1744, that would guarantee that the Presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states wins the Presidency.  The bill is an interstate compact, which would take effect only when states possessing a majority of the membership of the Electoral College (that is 270 of 538 electoral votes) enact similar statutes.