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Evan LeBrun is the executive director of Mainers For Working Families.
The unprecedented dual health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19 have led us Mainers to come together like never before to protect our families, small businesses and communities.
Whether it’s Gov. Janet Mills’ compassionate and steadfast efforts to flatten the curve, various cities and towns driving innovative approaches to keeping small businesses open, or the tireless work of our health care professionals to care for Mainers in even the most remote parts of the state, we can be proud to live in a state so proactive and dedicated to its people.
While Mainers gave Mills high marks for her response — with 57 percent in approval — we heard the people loud and clear that they want to see the Legislature return to a special session and address important policy issues facing the state. An overwhelming 85 percent support a special session — and again, the survey’s respondents were of all political affiliations and ideologies, with 68 percent of the respondents identifying as moderate or conservative.
The health and economic crises have spawned seemingly endless challenges for Mainers, from navigating the unemployment insurance system for the first time to handling child care with the transition to working from home. We asked respondents about a number of policies to learn what feels the most pressing to them and their families.
A few themes stood out in the results.
Mainers understand that small businesses are having a much tougher time than their corporate competitors, and that the Legislature needs to embrace policies that preserve our state’s unique small-business culture. Mainers want to ensure that corporations pay their fair share for municipal and state services by closing tax loopholes, establish stronger protections for workers who act as whistleblowers about unsafe working conditions and create a low-interest loan program for small businesses.
On the contrary, the policy that received the lowest amount of support was the idea of letting corporations off the hook if workers or consumers contract COVID-19 on their premises due to unsafe business practices. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business have made “corporate immunity” a national priority, but Mainers are resolute that such a policy is bad for Maine and bad for our small businesses.
Given the recent news that 14,000 Mainers have lost their health care insurance when they lost their jobs, it’s no surprise that we saw Mainers clamouring for action on health care in the survey. Over half of respondents strongly support making health insurance coverage 100 percent guaranteed, so if someone is laid off or furloughed they don’t have to worry about losing their family’s health care coverage too. Maine’s expansion of Medicaid was an important step in this direction, but there are still fixes needed to ensure families have coverage, such as providing health care to Mainers left out through the Affordable Care Act’s “family glitch.”
Mainers also support, in large numbers, establishing a buy-in program for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, so that anyone can participate, ensuring funding for the health care affordability board that the Legislature established earlier this year through bipartisan support, and bringing in millions of dollars of revenue to make health care more affordable by continuing at the state level a federal assessment on health insurance providers that is set to expire this year — an initiative that states like Colorado and Maryland have already passed.
The pandemic has highlighted to the entire country that Mainers are strong people who take the health and well-being of our communities seriously. Our conversations with voters across the state indicate that Mainers also understand the hard work that will be necessary to ensure a full recovery, and that we all must come together and support the Legislature to get it done.