State Sens. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) and Nicole Grohoski (D-Hancock) on Tuesday pitched a somewhat slimmer version of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ $446 million spending package, which failed last week to pass as an emergency measure.
“We offer, Sen. Grohosoki and I, offer our proposal in a constructive spirit,” said Bennett.
Bennett said he continues to believe that a large spending package ought to go through the public hearing process, but that he hoped the bipartisan proposal could move the initiative along.
“Spending our surplus accounts dry leaves no money to deal with other pressing issues such as our opioid epidemic, our failing nursing homes, and the dire shortage of direct care workers for people who have been promised services,” he said.
“It’s clear to me, and I think to all our colleagues in the legislature, that many of our neighbors are in urgent need of heating and housing relief,” said Grohoski.
“The majority of the feedback I’ve been receiving from constituents over the past couple of days about this proposal is that the checks are too small for people who are really are in need and too large for others,” she said.
Grohoski said the proposal would use state data on energy consumption and costs to more finely target the money. The plan calls for cutting the amount of direct payments to Maine residents almost in half while more accurately targeting the checks toward the low-income end of the spectrum.
The proposal would use a sliding scale up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line to allocate the checks. That means a family of five with combined income over $97,410 would not be eligible for any money. Nor would a single individual making more than $40,770.
Whereas the Mills proposal used federal Medicaid dollars originally intended for nursing homes and individuals with traumatic brain injuries, the senators want to leave that $160 million alone.
On housing, Bennett and Grohoski want to allocate another $15 million to the Maine Housing Authority as a short-term solution to cover the end of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program on Dec. 31.
The amendment would preserve Mills’ original request for additional funding for the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program, which Maine Housing says is already adequately funded through next July.
Mills’ larger spending bill, which she asked the Legislature to pass on an emergency basis, failed to get two-thirds support in the State Senate on Dec. 7.
Republican senators unanimously voted against the proposal, arguing that a bill so large should have public hearings. Bennett maintained his insistence Tuesday that the bill should go through a public hearing.
You can read a document the pair distributed to some reporters here: