AUGUSTA – On Thursday, the Maine Senate enacted a responsible budget that makes transformational investments in child care, housing and emergency medical services. The vote was 22-9 in the Senate and 80-58 in the House.
The budget measure — LD 258, “An Act Making Unified Appropriations and Allocations from the General Fund and Other Funds for the Expenditures of State Government and Changing Certain Provisions of the Law Necessary to the Proper Operations of State Government for the Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 2023, June 30, 2024 and June 30, 2025″ — represents Part II of the biennial budget and received a strong bipartisan vote of 11-1 in the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.
The Senate President and Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee released the following statements shortly after the vote:
Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash:
“It’s hard to overstate what this budget will mean for working-class families. It is a budget that answers the call of the moment and delivers for parents on child care, paid family and medical leave, and the dependent tax credit, making it just a little easier for folks to make ends meet. It will give those of us who live in rural areas peace of mind knowing that when we call 9-1-1, we can count on emergency medical services professionals to show up in our hour of need. It also builds on our work to deliver tax relief to retired Mainers, lowers health care costs for older folks and expands proven property tax relief programs. There is no question in my mind that the people of Maine will be better off due to the initiatives in this budget, and it is a testament to the leadership of Senator Peggy Rotundo and Senator Jill Duson on the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.”
Senator Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston:
“At the outset, this Legislature was tasked with responding to the growing crisis in child care, housing and emergency medical services. There was a shared consensus that these were priorities that mattered for all of us regardless of party — these are services our communities and economy depend on. This budget reflects these shared priorities and will undoubtedly improve the lives of families, strengthen our communities and bolster our economy. It will double the wage stipend for child care workers and increase affordability for parents. It establishes the Housing First Program, invests in short-term emergency housing and directs funding toward affordable housing in both rural and non-rural areas. It also invests $31 million in emergency medical services. Though this budget is not a perfect budget, it is a good, bipartisan budget that meets this moment. I want to thank Senator Duson, Senator Bennett, my committee colleagues and all the nonpartisan staff who worked so hard to make this happen.”
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BUDGET
- Doubles salary stipends for child care workers. The budget increases the salary stipends for all child care workers from $200 to $400. This will help qualified professionals afford to remain in the industry and help providers retain staff.
- Boosts the child care affordability program. The child care affordability program makes it easier for income-eligible working families to afford child care. The budget would increase eligibility for the program from 85 to 125 percent of the state’s median income. The change would take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
- Establishes the Housing First Program. This program would facilitate services to residents of “housing first” properties, which are separately funded and developed to provide permanent housing to persons who have been chronically homeless. In addition, this provision would fund technical assistance for the development of housing first properties, to be administered by MaineHousing.
- Prevent student homelessness. Creates a pilot program that provides McKinney-Vento liaisons with access to emergency financial assistance for students at risk of homelessness. (LD 1609)
- Supports the creation of a Paid Family and Medical Leave Program. The budget provides one-time start-up funding to establish the state’s first paid family and medical leave program. Maine will be the 13th state to establish a program and benefits will be available as of May 1, 2026.
- Invests in $31 million Emergency Medical Services. The budget establishes a grant program to increase sustainability and resiliency of Maine-based emergency medical service entities. The program will shore up the most precarious areas at immediate risk of failing and leaving their communities without access to adequate emergency medical services. (LD 526)
- Keeps promises to Maine State Retirees. The budget dedicates $19.8 million for a one-time 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retired State employees. The one-time adjustment would provide a maximum benefit of $726 and an average benefit of $527 to approximately 37,600 state-sponsored plan retirees.
- Provides income tax breaks for retired Maine residents. The budget increases the annual income tax pension deduction to $30,000 to $35,000 for all retired Maine residents this tax year. The amount increases to equal the maximum Social Security benefit in the following years.
- Lowers health care costs for older Mainers. By removing barriers to the Drugs for the Elderly Program and Medicare Savings Program, more older Mainers will receive the relief they deserve on prescription drugs and Medicare Part B premiums. (LD 1522)
- Establishes the Maine Dependent Tax Credit. This new tax credit replaces the child care tax credit and provides a refundable dependent exemption credit of $300 beginning in Fiscal Year 2025. The credit amount is indexed to inflation.