Press Releases

Maine faith leaders urge legislators to fund critical programs

March 27, 2024


Leaders say the projected surplus should be used to help Mainers in need rather than underfund programs they depend on.

Faith leaders from around the state gathered at the State House on Wednesday to urge the legislature and Gov. Janet Mills to fund critical programs to solve challenges Mainers are facing right now, such as housing insecurity and homelessness, access to healthcare and childcare, low wages, and substance use disorder. 

With a projected surplus of $373 million over the next two years, faith leaders said now is not the time to be adding to Maine’s rainy day fund, as Gov. Mills has proposed.

Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida (she/her), an organizer with Multi-faith Justice Maine, said, “It no longer feels like careful stewardship to choose to save those millions of dollars instead of funding critical programs that could help alleviate the overwhelming need currently before us. It feels like we are at risk of sliding into a compulsive form of saving that is rooted in the disorienting reality that we can’t ever really be certain that we’ve secured our financial future. And that compulsion will demand that we continue to sacrifice our people as a result.”

Rev. Sara Bartlett (she/her) of the Second Congregational Church of Norway spoke of the many unmet needs—lack of housing, healthcare, and warm clothing—of community members in Oxford Hills. 

“As I spend my days serving the people of my church, and our neighbors, many unhoused folx have come into the double doors of the sanctuary looking for assistance, looking for help, looking for someone to care for them. Looking for someone to care about them. And so often I and my church members do what we can. But it isn’t enough. It is never enough,” Bartlett said.

She continued by calling on those of the Christian faith to view the state budget as a moral document, one that should reflect people’s values. 

“Those of us in the Christian faith should never be dismissive of those who are hurting or are in pain, especially during this holiest week in our Christian calendar,” Bartlett said.  “I remind all of us who walk in these halls, this is the week when we dive deep into our relationship with God and determine how we can better reflect unconditional love for our neighbor… When we think that because we control the money we have the right to make decisions on who lives or who dies, we have become like Judas.”

Rev. Dr. Albert Boyce (he/him), the lead chaplain for Volunteers of America Northern New England, also recalled community members coming to churches in Maine looking for assistance. 

He said, “Because there are ample funds to insulate our state from future downturns, I plead with our governor, and the legislature, to address the current high stakes human needs within our state.”

He and Rev. Dr. Cohen Hayashida laid out how the budget surplus should be used to help the thousands of Mainers in need. With $25 million of the $107 million Gov. Mills wants to add to the already full rainy day fund, the state could create a rental assistance program that would help more Mainers find and stay in their homes. For $7 million, the state could improve the way it pays childcare providers, making child care more affordable and helping prevent desperately needed centers from closing.

With $10.8 million, the state could raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Maine could cover the medicare gap that discriminates against immigrants with $13 million, help the direct service providers who care for our state’s most vulnerable go to college with just $500,000, and still have millions left over to support raising the pay of teachers, school support staff and ed techs and fund dozens of recovery centers for Mainers struggling with substance use disorder.

“As a state, we have been blessed with leaders whose careful stewardship has protected our financial future,” Rev. Dr. Cohen Hayashida said. “Now it’s time to embrace an equally critical virtue—compassionate care of one another.” 

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Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) was founded in Lewiston in 1982 and has grown to be the largest community organization in Maine, and one of the largest in the country. MPA is a powerful grassroots network of more than 32,000 members who work together on issues that include but are not limited to climate change, toxics use reduction, health care access, affordable housing, racial justice, and immigrant rights.

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Contact: Nora Flaherty-Stanford, [email protected], (207) 370-8314