While Maine is beginning to emerge from a terrible global recession, the recovery remains slow with ill effects being felt in many sectors. Too many people are without jobs, too many working families are struggling and more and more people are being forced to turn to the government for help despite their own best efforts at self-sufficiency.
Our own Catholic churches around the state are working in creative ways to bring relief to as many people as possible. They support homeless shelters and soup kitchens, provide services to the elderly and the disabled, and make sure children have access to quality child care.
But our efforts and that of many others in the faith community and private sector are not enough tosuffering and poverty. Government, as agent of the people, has a critical role to play.
Gov. Paul LePage has submitted his proposal for state spending for the next two years. In so doing he faced no easy choices, and I believe he put forward a plan that he believes balances the many competing demands of the state.
By all measures the state budget is a document about priorities; it offers insight into who we are as a community. It is a testament to our values as a state.
I believe that Mainers are kind and generous, that they care about their neighbors, the frail and the weak, the poor and lonely, children and the elderly, and that they would not want to turn their backs on them during a time of need.
Given those values, they feel a sense of responsibility for their communities.
I cannot, and I believe the people of Maine cannot, in good faith, support the proposed reductions in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, MaineCare, General Assistance and programs serving legal immigrants contained in the current budget proposal.
The budget contains proposals that would place strict and arbitrary time limits on the TANF program, while also placing unreasonable new limitations on General Assistance. There are also proposals to deny health insurance coverage to working families through MaineCare, and to eliminate support programs for legal immigrants until they have lived in Maine for five years.
These changes, if adopted, will create new chaos in the lives of people who are already struggling. The consequences are alarming and frightening.
If these proposals are enacted, I fear more children will become homeless, the elderly will lose access to their medicine and families won't have enough to eat.
The economic conditions of our times have forced more working families into poverty, and pushed more people to the edges of our society where they too often struggle alone without the support necessary to stabilize their lives.
With the recent rise in fuel prices, many people who have managed to remain independent, including many seniors living on fixed incomes, will be at risk.
If these cuts are implemented, churches and other community support organizations will not be able to fill the growing unmet needs. While Maine has a robust network of volunteers and charities, they won't be able to keep up with an influx of thousands of people desperate for help.
I am not an economist, nor an expert on the state budget. I cannot predict when Maine's economy will meet its full potential and provide opportunity for every person to live a happy and secure life.
Until that time, and in the spirit of charity and Christian love, the church will do, as it always has, everything we can to help those in need. But we can't do it without our partners in the state and federal government.
Gov. LePage faces serious challenges as he leads our state, and I do not envy the choices that he must make. But we must not balance our budget on the backs of the poorest among us, those with the least to give and the most to lose.
The state budget is about choices and about how we meet our responsibilities and obligations to one another. It is a moral document that tells the world who we are.
Scripture is clear: We must not abandon the weak and the poor, the aged and those who have lost hope, the immigrant and stranger, the homeless and the young.
It is our duty, instead, to reach out our hand, to lift them up, and to share what we have. Even if that means self-sacrifice. Our faith demands it. Our sense of justice demands it.
As the good men and women who lead our government work to find a better solution to the budget problems of our state, we must lend them our support, offer up our most creative ideas and never lose sight of our commitment to one another as the children of a loving and charitable God.
The Most Reverend Bishop Richard J. Malone, Th.D., ordained a priest in 1972, was installed as bishop of Portland in 2004. He was elected to the Board of Catholic Relief Services in 2010 and serves on the U.S. Operations Committee.