Chipman bill would grow workforce development programs for new Mainers

Posted: May 08, 2017 | Senator Chipman, Senator Libby

Legislation introduced by Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, to create a grant program to fund workforce development programs for new Mainers was the subject of a public hearing in the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Friday.

The bill — LD 1412, An Act To Increase Access to Workforce Development Programs for New Maine Residents — would establish the Immigrant Workforce Development Fund. The Fund would provide competitive grants to ethnicity-based community organizations to fund programs and services to help legal immigrants and refugees become economically self-sufficient.

Ethnicity-based community organizations “collectively provide a range of culturally and linguistically specialized services for the State’s refugee/immigrant/asylum seeker populations,” said Fatuma Hussein, the executive director for the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine. “The Immigrant Workforce Development Fund would allow us to serve more people — putting more people on the path to self-sufficiency and economic independence.”

Getting more new Mainers into workforce training is not only good for the individual new Mainers themselves, but necessary for Maine’s future. Maine has the oldest median age in the country. In 2015 only two counties, Cumberland and Androscoggin, saw more births than deaths. Many Mainers are nearing retirement age and there aren’t enough younger, potential employees to take their place. According to a report from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Development Foundation and Coastal Enterprises Inc., bringing in and training new Mainers is essential for Maine’s economic future.

“Maine has a major workforce shortage right now and with deaths exceeding births in 14 out of 16 counties, this issue is expected to get much worse in the next few years,” said Chipman. “Immigrants are critical to solving this problem and this bill will develop the immigrant workforce we desperately need.”

“These organizations are by their nature often the most effective groups for bridging the gaps between their community members and the greater community,” said Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston. “Their linguistic and cultural competency provides a meaningful bridge to established service providers, but because of their relatively short history in our community, they lack well-established and stable sources of revenue to support their work. This bill would provide that support.”

LD 1412 faces further action in the Health and Human Services Committee and votes in the House and the Senate.