As Maine rebuilds from the pandemic, our “new normal” should be more equitable.
This moment is an opportunity to help people regain lost ground, and to build a more resilient future where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential.
All people and communities do better when everyone has the resources they need to prosper and thrive. Decisions about tax policy affect whether we have the resources to keep money flowing to families, towns, and our economy.
Taxes like the income tax, sales tax, and property tax are how we all pitch in to pay for those things that create a better quality of life for all of us: schools, housing, transportation, health care, clean air and water, parks, and family supports like food and child care assistance that make sure nobody gets left behind.
There are at least four broad strategies that can be employed to reduce poverty on a national, state, and local level.
First, there is a need to create enough adequately paying jobs that can support individuals and families above the poverty line. This includes initiatives such as raising the minimum wage to a living wage, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, and stimulating the creation of good quality jobs.
Second, it is important to increase the accessibility of key social and public goods. These include quality education (both at the primary and secondary level, as well as at the post-secondary level), health care, affordable housing, and child care.
Third, policies that encourage the building of assets, particularly for those of modest means, is vital. Likewise, building the assets and resources of lower income communities is important.
Finally, providing a strong and effective social safety net is critical in addressing poverty on a national, state, or local level. This would include a range of programs and supports designed to allow families to get back on their feet when economic turmoil strikes. Community Action Agencies provide many of these programs.
Racial inequity drives poverty. As the Maine Community Action Partnership aims to effectively eradicate the causes and conditions of poverty, we understand that racial inequity rests at the intersection of multiple barriers that impede access to economic security for children, families and communities. To foster equitable access to a thriving future for all children and families, the Partnership works with several partners to ensure our policy objectives are anti-racist, to remove or change policies that are racist and to analyze the intersection of race and poverty in the lives of the entire community.
Community Service Block Grants
The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) provides U.S. federal funding for Community Action Agencies (CAAs) programs that seek to address poverty at the community level. Like other block grants, CSBG funds are allocated to the states through a formula, with less federal oversight and fewer federal requirements than categorical grants. The CSBG formula determines each jurisdiction’s funding level based on poverty population; once disbursed, most of the money is passed by the states to CAAs to be spent on employment, education, income management, housing, nutrition, emergency services, and health.
Each year, Maine receives about $4 million. This year, the state was awarded an additional $5.2 million through the CARES Act to directly support corona virus, or COVID-19 response. The state also funds MeCAP to provide training and technical assistance to the state community action agencies.
Using a Whole Family approach builds family well-being by intentionally and simultaneously working with children and the adults in their lives together. As children, parents and families grow and change across their lifespan, Whole Family approaches align opportunities to help families pursue their goals and thrive, optimizing each person’s potential along the way. These approaches may also be called Two-Generation or 2-Gen approaches.
Providing integrated, high-quality, intentional supports to parents and children at the same time through a Whole Family Approach has the potential to improve both parent and child social and economic well-being producing a legacy of family well-being that passes from one generation to the next.
Early Childhood Education & Head Start
Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Head Start programs provide a learning environment that supports children’s growth in the following domains:
- language and literacy;
- cognition and general knowledge;
- physical development and health;
- social and emotional development; and
- approaches to learning.
Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to enrolled children and their families, which include health, nutrition, social, and other services determined to be necessary by family needs assessments, in addition to education and cognitive development services. Head Start services are designed to be responsive to each child and family’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage. Head Start has a long-standing commitment to the inclusion of children with disabilities. The Head Start Performance Standards and other regulations assure that children with disabilities and their families are included in the range of comprehensive services and program options available to all families.
Head Start emphasizes the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teacher. Head Start programs build relationships with families that support the following:
- family well-being and positive parent-child relationships;
- families as learners and lifelong educators;
- family engagement in transitions;
- family connections to peers and community; and
- families as advocates and leaders.
The Head Start program, to include Early Head Start, was most recently reauthorized in 2007 with bipartisan support. The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 had several provisions to strengthen Head Start quality. These include alignment of Head Start school readiness goals with state early learning standards, higher qualifications for the Head Start teaching workforce, State Advisory Councils on Early Care and Education in every state, and increased program monitoring, including a review of child outcomes and annual financial audits.
The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program serves pregnant and 6 months postpartum women, infants, and children from birth to age 5. WIC Nutrition Counselors provide nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and referrals to a variety of programs related to family health and well-being. Participants receive supplemental food vouchers to purchase foods such as fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, yogurt, cereal, whole grains, peanut butter, beans, eggs, canned fish, juice and infant formula. WIC can provide mothers with hospital-grade breast pumps and also has a Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program to assist pregnant and postpartum women in meeting their breastfeeding goals.
Children enrolled in Early Head Start, Head Start and some daycare and summer programs are provided with breakfast, lunch and healthy snacks every day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, community action staff continue to prepare meals and deliver them to our program families. As programs open safely, nutritious meals will again be served at the classroom.
Housing and Energy
Community Action Agencies partner with MaineHousing to deliver a variety of programs to make heating more affordable.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP or LIHEAP) helps qualified homeowners and renters pay for heating costs. Benefits include help paying for fuel and emergency fuel delivery. Persons eligible for HEAP also qualify for energy-related repairs. The amount of assistance from HEAP is based on household size and income, energy costs, and other factors.
Assistance may be available if the total household income falls within the income eligibility guidelines which is the greater of 150% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or 60% of State.
People may still apply for HEAP even if heat is included in the rent.
Additional help may be available if a person has less than a 3-day supply of heating fuel or is in danger of having utility services disconnected and has no means to pay the energy company. If eligible for HEAP, people may also qualify for other programs that require HEAP eligibility:
- Low Income Assistance Plan (LIAP): Assistance with electric bills for those receiving residential electric service from an electric utility and not living in government subsidized housing
- Weatherization Program: For home weatherization improvements to increase energy efficiency
- Central Heating Improvement Program (CHIP). For heating systems in need of repair or replacement.