Senate unanimously passes Sen. Rafferty bill to prevent student homelessness

Posted: June 14, 2023 | Education and Cultural Affairs, Senator Rafferty

AUGUSTA – On Tuesday, the Maine Senate unanimously voted in favor of a bill from Sen. Joe Rafferty, D-Kennebunk. The bill, LD 1609, “An Act to Prevent Student Homelessness,” will create the Maine Student Homelessness Prevention fund, a tool to prevent student homelessness in Maine.

Every Maine school has a dedicated McKinney-Vento liaison who works with local students facing housing insecurity or who are at risk of homelessness. These liaisons would have access to this fund in their efforts supporting their students.

Sen. Joe Rafferty

“As a former coach and educator, it pains me to see housing-insecure students struggling through the school year. It is our responsibility as adults to support these children in need, as their families face overwhelming stress that impedes their ability to focus on their studies,” said Sen. Rafferty. “With the successful enactment of this bill, my Senate colleagues and I were clearly moved by the urgent pleas from schools. They emphasized that a fund to cover small expenses could drastically change outcomes for students and families facing eviction. Recognizing the tireless work of our school liaisons, we seized the opportunity to help these families before it’s too late.”

“Students who experience homelessness face numerous barriers to education, including high rates of chronic absence, mobility, academic challenges, and trauma,” according to Maine Department of Education’s Homelessness Education Specialist Amelia Lyons. “Oftentimes, the difference between a few hundred dollars – for things like a car repair, rent payment, or utility bill – can determine if a family will experience homelessness or not. This funding would ensure schools can access resources to support the basic needs of their students, so that these children can have what we wish for all our children – a peaceful childhood to focus on their school experiences, and not worry about where to sleep that night, or if there will be heat, or if their parent will lose their job because the car broke down.”

As a result of Maine’s housing crisis, schools reported over 2,100 students experiencing homelessness in 2022. Last year was the first year that homeless students made up over 1 percent of Maine’s total student population.

According to the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, over 73 percent of evictions in Maine occur as a result of less than $1,300 in outstanding costs, highlighting the precarious financial situations that many families in our state are facing. 

In 2021, Maine received $2.6 million in federal funding to support homeless children and youth through the pandemic, which allowed McKinney-Vento liaisons in Maine school districts to provide more support to students in need. During the bill’s public hearing, educators were clear that this funding improved outcomes. But the federal funding will expire in September 2024. The Maine Student Homelessness Prevention fund will ensure there are no gaps in service.

The bill faces further votes before the Senate and the House.