March 28, 2013
Good afternoon Senator Hill, Representative Rotundo, Senator Craven, Representative Farnsworth, members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and members of the Joint Committee on Health and Human Services.
My name is Steve Lane, and I serve as the Ninth Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Maine, representing 64 congregations across the state.
I encourage you to resist budget decisions that undermine the lives, dignity and rights of vulnerable Mainers living in poverty, particularly those cuts that would affect a community’s ability to provide general assistance.
As a church leader who takes the example and teachings of Jesus to heart, I believe the moral measure of any budget is how the most needy among us – “the least of these” – fare in our society.
At St. Luke’s Cathedral in downtown Portland, nine local Episcopal congregations share the duties of serving at the St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry each Tuesday morning. On average members of 325 households arrive to pick up a range of items that aren’t covered by food stamps: a roll of toilet paper, a baggie of laundry detergent, a bar of soap, donated toys and winter coats…and most valuable of all when they have donations to buy them … disposable diapers.
Many families we serve are new to our shores, many others are those whose families have lived in Maine for generations. I think of a couple with two young children. In recent months, the mother lost her job and her husband is trying hard to find a second job. The only thing keeping them afloat during this difficult period is general assistance.
I also think of two asylum seekers who depend on St. Elizabeth’s and have come to this country after enduring terrible hardships in Central Africa. Upon arriving here and moving from the shelter system into stable housing, they became certified nursing assistants and found employment. They bring much to our community as examples of faith and determination, and they carry on the tradition of the hard working-immigrants seeking a better life for themselves and their families. In this way, general assistance helps us all welcome the stranger. Had the proposed limit of nine months of housing support been in effect while they were engaged in job training, they would have been forced to return to the shelter. These two women represent many others with similar stories.
The biennial budget as proposed will fray the safety net for thousands of our neighbors. But, as you well know, that won’t make them or their problems go away. Our emergency services, hospitals, and law-enforcement agencies will be pressed even harder for costlier intervention even as their own resources are diminished. Already critical programing offered by our Community Action Programs across Maine is being curtailed because of sequestration at the federal level. Further cuts at the state level, both in general assistance and for Social Security Income for legal residents, will further stress communities and agencies that work for the common good of all.
When confronted with Jesus’ words that the “poor shall always be with us,” the 20th Century Catholic activist Dorothy Day replied, “Yes, but we are not content that there should be so many of them.” Nor am I.
As you seek to serve all people in Maine, I pray that you are graced with wisdom and strength. Thank you for the opportunity to share my concerns with you today.