Michaud Says Attack Poverty, Not the Poor
Fifty years ago, President Johnson launched his War on Poverty.
The nation was facing a poverty rate of about 19 percent, and it was particularly acute among seniors. Something had to be done.
Johnson believed — as do I — that the keys to addressing poverty were to attack its root causes.
He created Medicare, which along with Social Security, helped to greatly reduce poverty among seniors and to improve both their health and quality of life.
He created Medicaid, a federal partnership with states, to provide health care to low-income people with a focus on children, young mothers and low-income seniors.
In addition, he wanted to improve food security for low-income families and provide a ready market for the country’s agricultural producers.
And finally, he believed that education was the key to opportunity and prosperity.
President Johnson was right. And his efforts have changed the lives of millions of people, particularly for senior citizens and children.
But along the way, the War on Poverty has turned into a War on the Poor.
Support for programs that lift people toward the middle class, make sure they have food to eat and a warm, safe place to live have taken a back seat to tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, for trade deals that put our workers at a disadvantage in the name of global corporate profits and for an education policy that prioritizes privatization and standardized tests above students’ needs.
I see it in Congress, and we’re now seeing it right here in Maine.
Gov. Paul LePage and like-minded politicians in Washington act as if low-income and working families are cheats and criminals, or that they’re all lazy and just looking for a hand-out.
It’s an appeal that plays on the anger of uncertain times, and it can be politically effective.
But the truth is much different. These families are our neighbors and friends who have fallen on hard times. They’ve lost a job or escaped a dangerous domestic situation. They’ve had a medical emergency or death in the family that’s left them bankrupt or homeless. They’re single mothers who do their best to raise their children without access to enough food, housing or adequate transportation.
Let me be clear: As governor, I will not tolerate any fraud or abuse, and my administration will crack down on any person who attempts to abuse the system. Every dollar that is misused is less available for someone who’s trying to get shoes for their child, put food on their table or pay their heating bill.
Unfortunately, Gov. LePage has lost all credibility on this topic by politicizing the information he chooses to release, withholding other information and resorting to far-right talking points meant to divide people and shame working families. It’s wrong. It’s divisive. And it ignores reality.
If we want to reduce the number of people who receive assistance, we have to address the root causes of poverty, create jobs and lift families into the middle class. Otherwise, the results are catastrophic.
While homelessness around the country is declining, in Maine it’s increasing. And much of that can be placed on the policies of the current governor.
Poverty among children in Maine is unconscionable. Nearly one in four children younger than 5 live in poverty. One in five of all children live in poverty. I talked to the leaders at one elementary school in Southern Maine: Last year, one in 10 kids at the school experienced an incidence of homelessness.
There’s a better way.
We should start by expanding access to health care for nearly 70,000 low-income and working families — including nearly 3,000 veterans — so that they can get the care they need when they need it. I fought hard in Congress to ensure that Maine would be reimbursed for Medicaid at a rate that will save the state more than $600 million over a 10-year period, but as long as Governor LePage and legislative Republicans refuse to expand health care coverage, Maine will continue to lose out on those resources.
Maine should increase the minimum wage so that struggling families can earn an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.
And we must invest in education: in early childhood education and pre-K, where the investment pays the greatest return; in K-12, where our teachers do amazing work even while navigating an ever-changing maze of standards and declining resources; and in higher education, where we must address graduation rates and affordability.
But our education work doesn’t stop there. We must also open the door of education for those workers who need a new career and those on assistance who don’t have the training they need for a stable, good-paying job with benefits.
If we truly want to reduce the rolls of those receiving some help from the government, our focus should be on reducing the number of people who are poor. And I believe that if we, as a state, can move beyond the ideology and partisanship that has gripped our state for the past three years, we can work together to make real progress.