Mainers with intellectual disabilities can wait for years to be placed in a group home or sheltered workshop because the state has not lived up to its promises.

As bad as that is, it could be about to get a lot worse.

An acute labor shortage is threatening the viability of existing programs that serve more than 4,000 people. Increasing the pay for direct-care workers to attract more job applicants was part of last year’s budget deal, but the state can’t spend the money in the budget year that begins July 1 until the Legislature authorizes it, and that can’t happen because Gov. Paul LePage’s allies in the House Republican caucus forced an early end to this year’s session.

They refused to support a routine bill last month that would have extended the legislative session for five days. As a result, lawmakers were forced to go home without completing work on a variety of the most important bills of the session.

The no-compromise strategy was explained by House Republican Leader Ken Fredette:

“If you want to elect Republicans who are going to act like Republicans, they need to come vote like Republicans,” Fredette said. “That means we are not just going to say, ‘You know, we got what we can get and we are going to go home and call it a nice day.’ We are not going to do that because we are trying to change the model. These things do matter.”

Their goal is to block Medicaid expansion, which was passed in a referendum last fall after it had been vetoed five times by LePage. Fredette wants to to force Democrats to give up on Medicaid by putting other programs at risk.

That makes programs for disabled adults collateral damage, along with transportation bonds, school funding and other popular issues.

If the stalemate continues, “changing the model” is more than strong rhetoric. Unless the direct-care worker money is released, providers will be reimbursed less per hour than the minimum wage they are required to pay, which could force some out of business. That would add to waiting lists that are already 1,400 names long and increase suffering for families who deserve better.

These services were cut during the recession (by a Democratic administration), and they have not been restored during the recovery. Neither party should play harball with them now. The governor should call the Legislature back into session so that it can finish its work — all of it.

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