Maine lawmakers experienced their own kind of epiphany on January 6th in the House of Representatives. The manifestation of right-wing political extremists appeared before them disguised as a man of faith. With eyes closed and heads down, some lawmakers had flashbacks to the campaign trail when myths of “welfare cheats” spun like course wool.
“We have replaced the pride and dignity of hard work and honest pay for a welfare state where subservient dependency looks for a handout,” said Reverend Roger E. Tracey of the East Eddington Community Church during the morning “prayer.”
Maine tax dollars pay for a morning ritual in the legislature that in the past has been a nondenominational few minutes of reflection and peaceful solemnity.
“In the name of political correctness, we have become tolerant of everything except the faith of our fathers, Christian principles, and anyone who holds dear the traditional values that have sustained us from the very beginning” according to Tracey, who must have forgotten that thanks to his work we don’t tolerate gay couples getting married in Maine.
That tolerance of others is “political correctness” by the fathers in Augusta might explain why on day one of the new administration an executive order was issued urging state and local law enforcement officials to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining state and local welfare benefits.
Reality doesn’t reflect the rhetoric, though. According to a study to be released later this month by Maine Equal Justice Partners, the Maine Women’s Policy Center, and the University of New England, one in eleven Maine children and their families is at stake in this debate about “welfare” in our state.
Most people on welfare in Maine are single mothers caring for young children who graduated from high school, have recent work experience, and 67% of such families include at least one member with a disability. The real reason 25,000 Maine children receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is because the instability of work in the low-wage labor market, illness and disability, and family-related problems including divorce, separation or domestic abuse. The maximum basic benefit for a family of three is $485 per month, the lowest in New England, and the median length of time that families receive TANF is 1.5 years.
Reverend Tracey concluded his morning tirade with these words. “But now a new day has dawned, and a new congress has convened, and a new hope and enthusiasm fills this great chamber.”
It sure is a new day, and I’m hopeful the good people of Maine and all those who were elected to serve them see that the devil isn’t in the details. The truth is.