Maine’s LIFT Act Would Help Low-Income Students Succeed
By Carrie Welton
Tomorrow, February 14th, Maine’s legislature will hear testimony on the Leveraging Investments in Families for Tomorrow (LIFT) Act (LD 1774). The LIFT Act has two primary components that would allow the state to use existing public benefit funding to support low-wage students’ achievement of a degree or certificate. The bipartisan support of this bill acknowledges the critical importance of postsecondary education for Mainers. We applaud Speaker of the House of Representatives Sarah Gideon (D ME-48), Senate Assistant Majority Leader Amy F. Volk (R ME-30), and other members from both parties and chambers, for championing the bill.
The LIFT Act recognizes the many challenges that low-income students face that can prevent them from completing postsecondary education. These include unmet financial need, food and housing insecurity, and parenting responsibilities. By combining public benefits with targeted counseling, comprehensive financial aid, and advising, the LIFT Act could improve their prospects of degree completion.
To accomplish this, LIFT will utilize Maine’s Employment and Training program under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to provide targeted education and training support services for eligible students enrolled in high-demand degree or certificate programs. In partnership with educational and community-based institutions, LIFT calls for comprehensive services that reduce low-income students’ transportation, child care, and unmet financial need barriers.
The LIFT Act will also access Maine’s underutilized Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to promote college completion for students who are below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. In conjunction with educational institutions, the bill calls for expanded work-study opportunities, personalized professional support and navigation services, as well as reducing financial barriers to promote degree completion.
This couldn’t come at a more crucial time. According to the Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP), who has partnered with Speaker Gideon on this bill, the rate of Maine children living in deep poverty increased by 13.6 percent from 2011-2016, despite a 4.2 percent drop nationally over the same period. Deep poverty is problematic for anyone impacted but harms children the most, negatively impacting their health, development, and educational outcomes, which can result in poverty persisting across generations.
Conversely, poverty rates decline significantly as education levels rise, which improves an array of outcomes for children. Maine is no exception—as evidenced by the 4 percent of Mainers with a bachelor’s degree who lived in poverty in 2016 compared to 9 percent of Mainers with an associate’s degree or some college. College graduates are also more likely to get married (a long-held Republican priority), less likely to have children outside of marriage, and have children who go to college and earn more as adults. This presents Maine with a unique challenge as the state with the highest proportion of adults without a college education in New England.
The LIFT Act is a significant step in the right direction to reverse this trend by investing in Mainers’ educational attainment and the state’s future workforce. This Valentine’s Day, let’s hope Maine’s legislators show this bill the love it deserves.