Archive for October 8th, 2013

Federal Government Shutdown Having Major, Immediate, Widespread Effect On Maine

Posted on October 8, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

In the days leading up to the federal government shutdown, some of Maine’s Congressional members warned constituents of the approaching crisis, with Rep. Chellie Pingree stating that the September 29 vote by the House GOP linking the budget to removing funding for provisions of the Affordable Care Act was “a reckless and irresponsible move on the part of House Republicans that has taken us one step closer to a government shutdown”.

A sign at the entrance of Blackwoods Campground in Otter Creek informs campers on Tuesday of the campground's closure because of the federal government shutdown. (photo credit to BDN)

A sign at the entrance of Blackwoods Campground in Otter Creek informs campers on Tuesday of the campground’s closure because of the federal government shutdown. (photo credit to BDN)

The Congresswoman also set up a web page (“Government Shutdown FAQ”), describing the potential effect on federal agencies and programs, if such a shutdown were to occur.

The nation watched and waited, as the efforts for a “clean continuing resolution” or a “CR” went back and forth between the two chambers in DC, with House Republicans refusing to allow a clean CR to come up for a vote in their chamber and the Senate Democrats voting down each and every House-passed CR with ACA-defunding provisions attached to it. Inevitably, America went into its first federal shutdown in seventeen years, as of midnight on October 1, with an estimated 800,000 workers nationwide immediately furloughed.

Here in Maine, experts announced that there could be “profound effects on businesses” from a prolonged shutdown for the state.

Maine Democratic leaders, who had faced similar gridlock and a potential shutdown locally earlier this year but managed to come together with enough Republicans to avert that situation by overriding Governor LePage’s budget veto (LD 1509) for our state were quick to respond:

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, right, and House speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, speak to reporters after both the House and Senate voted to override Gov. Paul LePage's veto of the state budget, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.  (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, right, and House speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, speak to reporters after both the House and Senate voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the state budget, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

    “As lawmakers it is always our job to make sure government works for the people. We should question the motives behind those who work against us. The fact that one small group from one political party is blackmailing the rest of the country is shameful,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “Because of their actions, here in Maine, some folks will be prevented from moving forward with their home loans, thousands will lose their paycheck, and scores of businesses will be put on hold until this mess is cleaned up. I’m proud that in the Maine Legislature, we don’t behave that way. We show up and do our job—even when we disagree.”

    “The people of Maine and millions of Americans across the country woke up shaking our heads this morning,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves. “We are tired of Tea Party politicians who are more interested in running our government into the ground than making it work. Now, more than ever, we must collaborate to move our state and country forward. Democrats are committed to doing so as we head into the next legislative session.”

House-of-CardsBut when it was Governor LePage’s turn to respond, he minimized the effect of the Tea Party fueled shutdown with the following statement and mention of 280 furloughed federal employees:

“Although some positions and programs in state agencies are federally funded, all functions of state government will proceed as normal through the end of the week,” Governor LePage said. “The shutdown of the federal government is a result of the failure of leadership in Washington, D.C. A short-term shutdown won’t impact the operation of Maine state government. But if the shutdown continues for an extended period, then it could affect some state agencies. With the politicians constantly fighting over the budget, sequestration and the debt ceiling, in addition to $17 trillion in national debt, we cannot rely on the federal government to pay for public assistance programs or state services for Maine people.”

It has now been a week. Let’s examine the numbers of those directly affected here in Maine, shall we?

Front doors at Maine Department of Health and Human Services Disability Determination Office in Winthrop, 10/8/13.  Sign reads: "The Maine DDS is closed due to the government shutdown."

Front doors at Maine Department of Health and Human Services Disability Determination Office in Winthrop, 10/8/13. Sign reads: “The Maine DDS is closed due to the government shutdown.”

  • More than 200 federal employees at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor.
  • 280 immediately furloughed Maine Army National Guardsmen. Scratch that; try 400.
  • 44 more administrative Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management employees in Maine.
  • 56 SSDI health workers, with 52 of them, being the entire staff of the Disability Determination office in Winthrop.
  • “Thousands” of state employees”, possibly by the end of this week.
  • Potentially more than 500 employees of Defense Finance and Accounting Services in Limestone.
  • 1500 workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard were furloughed last week, with some now returning to work. As many as 2800 received furlough notices.

More layoffs, as provided by Maine AFL-CIO via press release last week:

  • In Cutler, 12 workers at the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station are locked out of their jobs.
  • In Limestone, over 500 workers are still working but may be sent home without pay within days.
  • In Bangor and Portland, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists who inspect the planes we all fly on to ensure safety have been told not to come in, and others that are deemed essential are working without pay.
  • Across the state, OSHA inspectors who keep workplaces safe for all Maine workers are wondering when their next paycheck may be and how they will pay their bills.
  • In Augusta, workers who process veteran benefits at Togus in the VBA will likely be sent home within days.
  • In Kittery, thousands of workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are out of work and more are working but unsure if they will be paid.
  • In Bangor and Portland, Air Traffic Controllers are working without pay.

Today Rep. Pingree’s office announced that nearly 10,000 VA workers have been furloughed nationwide. It remains to be seen what effect this announcement will mean on those workers at Togus or the veterans receiving care. Her statement:

    “The shutdown has already slowed down the claims process and these furloughs can only make things worse. For veterans who have been waiting months or even years for the benefits they deserve, that’s outrageous,” Pingree said. “This is the latest example of the real pain that the shutdown is causing to families all across the country. It’s outrageous that Republican leaders are keeping the government closed because of their obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act, and now veterans are paying the price. The VA has made it clear that if the shutdown goes into late October there could be a delay in disability payments,” Pingree said. “That would be a real hardship for veterans and their families. Not only is this a hardship for veterans, but also for the men and women at the VA who work every day to process claims for our veterans.”

A new study in today’s Bangor Daily News shows that the effects of the shutdown are hitting Maine especially hard, due to our large number of veterans and elderly population:

    The study, put out by the website WalletHub, says Virginia is the state most affected by the shutdown. Makes sense. Washington, D.C., ranks fourth on the list. Makes sense, too. But that’s just one spot ahead of Maine. Maryland — home to numerous federal offices and federal workers — is sixth, one slot behind Maine.

    So why does a shutdown hit Maine harder than it hits Maryland? It’s not because Maine is home to a disproportionately high number of furloughed federal employees — though the state has its share. Rather, it’s the state’s high concentration of seniors and veterans, its businesses’ dependence on loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the role real estate plays in the state economy.

We now enter Week #2 of the shutdown, with no end in sight.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )

It’s Official! Shenna Bellows Running for U.S. Senate

Posted on October 8, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Earlier today, former ACLU of Maine Executive Director Shenna Bellows ended speculation that she would be challenging incumbent Senator Susan Collins by confirming on Twitter that she had sent her initial paperwork to the Federal Elections Commission.

Bellows, a Hancock native, has yet to hold public office but considered briefly a run for Congress last year.

From her “About Shenna” page:

Shenna Bellows1

    Prior to her work at the ACLU of Maine, Shenna was the national field organizer at the ACLU in Washington, DC, organizing nationwide civil liberties campaigns including opposition to the Patriot Act, where she built broad coalitions that included librarians and gun owners alike.

    Shenna’s early career was devoted to economics. She worked as a research associate at Economists Incorporated from 1997 to 1999 before serving in the Peace Corps in Panama as a small-business development volunteer. In Panama, she launched a micro-lending program for artisans, started a Junior Achievement entrepreneurship program at a local high school, and was President of Women In Development/Gender and Development, dedicated to advancing economic and educational opportunity for women and girls. She continued her work in economic development as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Nashville, Tennessee. There she assisted a startup non-profit in developing an asset building program to promote educational and economic empowerment for young people in Nashville’s largest public housing project.

    Shenna is passionate about the environment and science. She worked as a research assistant for several summers during high school and college at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. She worked for the campus recycling program at Middlebury College, and today she serves on the Manchester Conservation Commission.

    Shenna is a leader in women’s rights and reproductive freedom. She has been recognized for her work to advance women’s health and reproductive choice by awards from the University of Maine Women’s Studies Department, Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center, the American Association of University Women, the Frances Perkins Center and the Maine Democratic Party.

Bellows recently announced her resignation from ACLU of Maine after a eight year tenure, via Facebook , saying in part:

bellowslogotrans

    “I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities I have had at the ACLU for over a decade, both in my two years at the Washington Legislative Office and especially in my last eight years home in Maine with all of you.

    Together, we were the first state in the country to reject REAL ID. Together, we stood up against warrantless surveillance of our telephone and email communications in 2007, before most people were even thinking about it. This year, we were one of only two states in the country to pass warrant requirements for surveillance of our cellphone communications. Our work to reduce solitary confinement in Maine’s prisons served as a model for other states, and we submitted testimony to Congress and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about it. We co-chaired the successful statewide campaign to restore same-day voter registration. We stopped literally hundreds of bad ideas from ever becoming law. And of course, we won marriage for all loving, committed couples in Maine.

    We have accomplished great things together. We have advanced constitutional freedoms in Maine, and we have served as a model for action for other states time and time again. I have learned so much from my colleagues on staff, from our dedicated board of directors, and from all of you. Thank you.”

Shenna recently married longtime beau Brandon Baldwin, Director of the Maine Attorney General’s Civil Rights Team Project. They reside in Manchester.

Her campaign website is already up and running, with links to Facebook and Twitter .

She plans to launch her campaign officially on Oct. 23 at events in Ellsworth and Portland.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Governor LePage’s OPM Director Lays Out Nearly $34 Million Cuts To Balance State Budget

Posted on October 8, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Director of Office of Policy and Management former state senator Richard Rosen (R-Bucksport)

Director of Office of Policy and Management former state senator Richard Rosen (R-Bucksport)

As part of the biennial FY ’14-15 budget bill enacted in June that called for the Governor’s newly formed Office of Policy and Management department with finding $33,750,000 in cuts, OPM Director Richard Rosen presented a 115 page report before Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) last week. This is the first report by Rosen to the committee.

Among the cuts listed:

  • $1 million in the closure of the Maine Revenue Services’ Houlton office (Note: This closure has already occurred, resulting in 12 jobs lost).
  • $9.6 million in administrative expenses in cuts to education.
  • Nearly half a million dollars in HeadStart funding.
  • $1 million cut to vaccines for children and cuts to the state’s reimbursement to towns for General Assistance for struggling families.
  • $1 million in innovative technology investments at Maine Technology Institute.
  • Multiple Department of Corrections cuts/changes, including:
      -$1.1 million by reducing overtime.
      -$800k by cutting the Prisoner Boarding Account.
      -Allowing prisoners with 18 months left on their sentences, as opposed to current 12 months, to participate in work-release programs, creating an additional $85k in revenue.
      -Privatizing DOC’s kitchen staff, saving $374k.
  • Elimination of more than a dozen inactive state boards and commissions. Negligible savings.

    Here are some quick videos of Mr. Rosen addressing the committee, the first as he starts to lay out the cuts to the committee and the second including questions by AFA committee members:

    Democrats were critical of the cuts:

      “There are strong concerns that the administration’s proposed cuts will harm our state’s economy and Maine families,” said Senator Dawn Hill of York who also serves as the Senate chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee. “We are prepared to make hard decisions and know that we must work together on solutions. But these solutions must be strategic and smart, not harmful and regressive for our working families and our towns.”

      “This proposal is a ‘greatest hits’ list of rehashed ideas that have been rejected by both parties, It’s hard to believe this is a serious proposal.” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chair of the Appropriations committee. “Now it is our job to find proposals that work.”

    As required by the budget, $11 million of the proposed cuts would occur in fiscal year 2014 and do not require the approval of the Legislature. The remainder of the proposed cuts would occur in 2015 and would need to be approved by lawmakers when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

    Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
  • Governor LePage Declares October As Domestic Violence Awareness Month

    Posted on October 8, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

    A special ceremony was hosted by Governor Paul LePage last week in his Cabinet Room at the State House, highlighting domestic violence awareness, supporting victims and honoring advocates who dedicate themselves to eradicating the violence. The event marked the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and was attended by a number of state and local officials, law enforcement representatives, business and community leaders and victims’ advocacy groups, including Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV) and Maine Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.

      “Domestic violence takes the lives of too many every year here in Maine. The physical violence alone is heart-wrenching. However, the emotional scars from domestic violence are lasting as well.

      Together, we remember those who are no longer with us. We honor their memories by raising awareness and carrying hope that one day we can end the violence.”

    The Governor took the opportunity to announce that he has directed $10,000 from his contingency fund to help pay for the completion of the Maine Murder Victims’ Memorial. Ground was broken in late September for the monument at Catholic Holy Family Cemetery in Augusta. The Memorial, an effort of the Maine Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, will have the names of 400 to 500 Maine murder victims inscribed in black granite tablets. In July, LePage directed $100,000 to MCEDV from his contingency fund in the wake of cuts in federal program cuts.

    Art Jette, director of the Maine Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, addresses those assembled at event hosted by Governor LePage.

    Art Jette, director of the Maine Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, addresses those assembled at event hosted by Governor LePage.

    Arthur Jette, director of the Maine Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, said the funds are a blessing and a tribute to every Maine family who has encountered the devastation that domestic violence brings with it.

      “Whenever the life of a loved one is taken, there is an unbelievable grief, like no other. We are gracious for the Governor’s support and faith in a cause that will bring comfort to families, survivors and victims, as well as a place to remember those lost at the hands of violence.”

    To locate your local Domestic Violence Resource Center, call the Statewide Helpline at 1-866-834-HELP (4357) or visit www.mcedv.org.

    Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

    Liked it here?
    Why not try sites on the blogroll...

    %d bloggers like this: