The head of a labor union that represents more than 13,000 Maine workers called on the state’s two U.S. senators Wednesday to support many of the provisions in a social spending bill that stalled in the Senate late last year.
“We’re calling on Maine’s congressional delegation to stand up for the rights of workers, to support the fight to address climate change and fund the critical home care services and child care services Maine people need,” Dean Staffieri, president of the Maine Service Employees Association, said during a rally in Augusta’s Capitol Park.
Eleven advocacy groups, including Maine Conservation Voters and the Union of Concerned Scientists Maine, will spend the next several weeks lobbying Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, said Adam Zuckerman of the Maine People’s Alliance. Their intent is to get parts of what had been known as President Biden’s Build Back Better bill enacted, including prescription drug reform.
Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) joined the rally and spoke passionately about the state’s efforts to reduce prescription drug prices, while also saying the issue needs federal attention.
“It really is something that is never lost on me – how embarrassing it is we (as lawmakers) have prescription drug coverage and our constituents don’t, but they gave it to us,” he said.
In November, the U.S. House passed a $2.2 trillion bill that included money to battle climate change, funds for community services and child care, and price controls for prescription drugs. But it effectively died in the Senate a month later when Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat with ties to the coal industry, said he could not support it.
The more than 30 people gathered in Augusta Wednesday say they are hopeful the Senate will soon turn its attention back to the elements of the plan they believe are most essential.
Kilton Webb, a fourth-year electrical apprentice who spoke on behalf of the Maine Labor Climate Council, said he’s on the front lines of helping the country fight against climate change. Working on a major solar installation opened his eyes to the role he and other workers will play in the future.
“We need a speedy transition to clean energy,” he said. “It’s long past due for the Senate to pass critical legislation to advance a clean energy economy.”
Among the provisions Manchin opposed in the legislation when it died in the Senate were new incentives and requirements to spur renewable energy development and reduce planet-warming fossil fuel emissions.
House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) said the federal government has a chance to significantly improve life for future generations by creating new clean energy jobs. He said enhanced child care tax credits helped many families in Maine.
Terri Crocker, owner of Creative Play Child Care in Bath, praised another proposal in the stalled legislation that would ensure that families don’t have to pay more than 7% of their income on child care.
“That’s huge,” she said. “That’s more food in their children’s mouths. That’s more money to pay for insurance that they can’t afford.”