Weekly Radio Address: Senator Haskell says, “It’s not too late for the LePage administration to do what is right for the tens of thousands of people who deserve a shot at getting their lives back on track”
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the decision to move two critical state agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, out of downtown Portland.
To some, it may seem like a “Portland issue” and so you’ve tuned out. But this morning I want to talk about why we should all care about this decision.
Good Morning. This is Senator Anne Haskell, I’m the Assistant Majority Leader from Portland.
Earlier this week, I took a bus ride. It was a ride from downtown Portland to the new location for DHHS and DOL, picked by the LePage Administration. The new location is situated on the access road by the jetport runway.
For those of us who have a car, it’s only four miles away—and, a relatively easy drive down Congress Street.
For those who don’t have a car, it means, at best, an hour-long walk, or a 40-minute bus ride with 36 stops; or, a $17 taxi ride. One way.
Last month, more than 22,000 people from Portland walked through the doors of the DHHS office in downtown Portland. And another 40,000 people, who live outside of Portland, traveled to the downtown location.
If you already live outside of Portland, moving DHHS and DOL doesn’t make it easier for you; in fact, if you’re already using the METRO bus system, likes folks from South Portland or Westbrook you will now have to take two buses—one to Portland’s central hub and then another to get out to the airport.
The move only serves to make it much harder for a good number of people—people who rely on services like temporary assistance for needy families, or the ASPIRE job training program; or, parents trying to collect child support payments from deadbeat parents, or the education program, Parents of Scholars.
It’s fair to say that for most, they are struggling; they’ve seen better days, and are now doing the best they can to make ends meet and get back on their feet.
Like many other service center communities across our state, by design and plan, Portland has a network of resources located in close proximity to one another. Organizations, churches, community policing, volunteers, and dozens of others whose aim it is to pick folks up when they are down, provide a boost to get over that hurdle—and help folks get back on track.
Distancing people from these supports only serves to further discourage those who are already discouraged, challenge those whose lives are already challenged.
So why move to a remote location when there seems to be zero benefit for more than 60,000 people—and actually has a negative impact for tens of thousands?
The LePage administration will tell you it’s to save money. True. And that’s a goal shared by all of us. If we can find less expensive space, we should do that; it’s in the best interest of the taxpayer. But what they aren’t telling you is that every one of the proposals put forth, including the two that keet DHHS and DOL in downtown Portland, also saved the taxpayer money. In fact, the proposal that had the largest savings in taxpayer dollars, actually ranked the lowest.
That doesn’t make sense.
There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense about this deal. Like the fact, that the winning bidder doesn’t even own the land yet—and the land that he’s proposing to build an 80,000 square foot building is situated on an ice-rink sized wetland. A permitting nightmare.
It’s not too late for the LePage administration to do what is right for the tens of thousands of people who deserve a shot at getting their lives back on track.
It is the mission and obligation of DHHS to provide these services. And while it is our responsibility as lawmakers to use the taxpayer dollar judiciously, we have to recognize that if we further disenfranchise people who are trying to make a better way for themselves, in the end, that will cost the taxpayer even more money. Just ask Cumberland County Sheriff Joyce who stood alongside dozens of us asking Governor LePage to reverse his decision.
We continue to urge the Governor not to be shortsighted and make the right move for Maine. It’s never too late to do the right thing.
Thank you for listening. This is Senate Assistant Majority Leader Anne Haskell of Portland. Have a wonderful weekend.