Many workers are putting themselves and their families at risk amid this COVID-19 outbreak in service to fellow Mainers. The expanded list of superheroes includes grocery store workers, janitors, nurses, doctors and all other healthcare workers, including the “disease detectives” whose investigatory work many of us have come to learn about for the first time through the daily Maine CDC briefings. We owe all of these workers a serious debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice.
Scores of other public workers, many of whom belong to my union, also have been leaving their homes every day to keep quality public services going as we all try to protect ourselves from coronavirus. They include emergency responders at agencies like the Maine Department of Public Safety, Maine Forest Service and Maine Emergency Management Agency and workers at the state psychiatric hospitals, courthouses, jails and prisons. We’re grateful for everyone maintaining our roads and bridges through their jobs with the Maine Department of Transportation, Maine Turnpike Authority and public works departments.
Let’s also recognize Maine’s adult- and child-protective services caseworkers, many of whom I’ve worked with at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and the workers at the Maine Department of Labor, where I currently work as a rehabilitation counselor, who are tirelessly processing a record number of unemployment insurance claims before them.
Maine’s county and municipal workers are keeping local government services running and preparing for Maine’s primary elections on July 14.
With over 33 million Americans out of work, including over 110,000 Mainers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the need to make sure Maine’s state and local services are there for all Maine people has increased exponentially. More and more Mainers are counting on services provided by state and local governments, yet the staggering job losses and reduced economic activity are threatening the ability of states and local governments to serve their communities.
“Available indicators forecast a new recession triggered by the spread of COVID-19, with the economic damage poised to hit harder and faster than any downturn in recent memory,” according to a report by the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
I know from my 29 years of work for the Maine state government that much of Maine’s public service structure was fragile before the pandemic. Over the past decade, tax breaks mostly benefiting Maine’s wealthiest citizens and corporations removed $864 million from each two-year state budget.
While steps have been taken recently to rebuild some services, particularly the public health nursing program and the Maine DHHS Office of Child and Family Services, workloads for many frontline workers remain impossible. There aren’t enough workers given the complexity, requirements and stress of the jobs.
With the pandemic and resulting economic crisis showing public workers are essential in keeping families and communities going, I’m concerned that without immediate action by Congress, the services so many Mainers count on and public services jobs could be at risk.
Congress recently passed new tax breaks for the wealthy and bailed out corporations, but hasn’t provided funding for state and local governments to keep providing services through this economic and public health crisis. If Congress can bail out corporations and give more tax breaks to the wealthy, Congress should at least provide financial help to states and local governments.
Members of my union and I are calling on Congress to protect all workers during this COVID-19 pandemic by investing at least $650 billion in state and local government services across our nation. Congress must invest in vital public services, not big corporations.
The need for Congress to take immediate and direction action in support of state and local governments is growing daily. It’s past time for all members of Congress to fund direct financial support for our cities and states immediately for the good of every working family hurting right now and to prevent further harm.
Dean Staffieri of Naples is president of the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 13,000 Maine workers.