Helping veterans, a big settlement, MaineCare cuts

THUMBS UP to a bill now before the Legislature that would establish a commission to review the services and programs the state provides for veterans, and find ways to fix any gaps or problems with access.

L.D. 721, sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, who served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan and previously worked on veterans issues in the office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, was given unanimous approval this week by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. It now goes to the full Legislature.

The programs and services available to veterans are numerous and substantial, offering help on such subjects as education, health care, housing and starting a new business.

But for veterans readjusting to civilian life, accessing those services can be overwhelming, if they know they exist at all. More work is needed to find where veterans are falling through the cracks, and how the state can do a better job of reaching them.

THUMBS DOWN to any attempt to use Maine’s portion of a $1.37 billion legal settlement against Standard & Poor’s that does not include initiatives to help homeowners and others harmed by the 2008 financial crisis.

Maine was one of 19 states to help win the decision against S&P, which was found to have understated the risks of mortgage-backed security investments and other schemes that helped lead to the crisis and subsequent Great Recession. Attorney General Janet Mills, whose office is awarded the money, said she would use the $21.5 million for restitution, consumer protection, financial literacy, student loan issues and other initiatives, including “efforts to remediate the effects of the mortgage and financial crisis.”

But Gov. Paul LePage, who is engaged in a long-running feud with Mills, ordered the money transferred to an account operated by one of his departments. While he hasn’t said specifically how he wants to spend the funds, LePage has mentioned perhaps using it to back other, unrelated initiatives.

That would be a mistake. S&P lost its case because it lied to its investors about the strength of mortgage securities, helping to trigger the worst financial crisis in decades, causing people to lose their homes and jobs in an economic meltdown whose effects are still felt today.

The settlement, then, should be used to counteract the conditions that helped bring about the crisis, by helping homeowners fix or avoid bad mortgages, for example.

THUMBS DOWN to reports out of Waterville showing an increase in the use of the general assistance program in Waterville.

The city’s director of general assistance and health and welfare told councilors this week that the increase is in part attributable to the cuts in MaineCare at the state level. The department’s budget for prescription medicine aid has more than doubled this year already, the director said.

This comes just weeks after Waterville was held up by the LePage administration as an example of how to administer the GA program.

It also comes the same week the governor is touting his MaineCare reforms as the reason Maine’s bond rating is solid.

Perhaps, but each cut also comes with a consequence, as Waterville is finding out.


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