U.S. House GOP plan would expand work requirements for food aid for older adults / by Ashley Murray

Photo by Scott Heins, Getty Images

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on April 25, 2023

Hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans could face higher barriers to food assistance under the U.S. House Republican plan to cut spending while temporarily lifting the debt limit, advocates say.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s Limit, Save, Grow Act proposes returning discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit, often called the debt ceiling, by $1.5 trillion — but only through March 31, 2024, at the latest.

McCarthy’s bill would expand the additional work requirements for certain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, recipients who do not have children. The idea has gained traction in a bill recently introduced by Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican.

As the law stands now, all recipients of federal nutrition aid ages 16 to 59 must either be looking for work, enrolled in a SNAP employment training program, or pulling in wages equivalent to 30 hours per week at the federal minimum wage. 

Some exceptions exist, for example, for people who already have a job, are physically or mentally unable, or are caring for a child under 6.

Additional work requirements come into play for able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 who do not have dependents. They must work for pay, attend a training program or volunteer 80 hours a month — though some states can waive these requirements depending on unemployment figures and other factors.

Those in that age range who don’t meet the work requirements, and cannot secure an exemption, can only receive SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps, for three months over a three-year period. 

McCarthy’s proposal aims to raise that age window to 55, beefing up work rules for a slim population of SNAP beneficiaries who are already subject to the program’s baseline requirements.

The SNAP age adjustment, plus proposed expanded work requirements for other low-income benefit programs — including Medicaid, which provides health insurance, and Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families, which assists families with children — could cut $100 billion and $120 billion in government spending over the next ten years, according to respective analyses from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Moody’s Analytics.

That’s a tiny fraction of the roughly $4.5 trillion McCarthy’s bill is estimated to save over the next decade, according to the CRFB and Moody’s.

Those in favor of expanding the work requirements for adults without dependents ages 50 to 55, like the libertarian think tank the CATO Institute, acknowledge it’s a “small part of the savings from the Republican plan.”

“But it is important to begin reining in bloated entitlements, and adjusting eligibility to encourage work is a good place to start,” wrote Chris Edwards, with the CATO Institute. 

Advocates say no to the change

But advocates for older adults and anti-hunger campaigns are speaking out against the proposed age adjustment, citing several reasons.

According to an AARP 2020 research survey, 9.5 million SNAP recipients are 50 or older. 

Roughly a million of those recipients are between 50 and 55, the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates in its analysis of McCarthy’s proposal.

AARP and the CBPP argue that raising the work requirement age will only place barriers in the way of a demographic that already faces age discrimination when applying for jobs, among other existing discriminatory hiring practices.

The CBPP’s state-by-state breakdown, based on 2019 figures, shows that anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of SNAP beneficiaries fit into the 50 to 55 age range across each of the 50 states, District of Columbia and U.S. territories. In Maine, according to the estimate, as many as 3000 adults could lose their benefits.

Further, the CBPP warns that McCarthy’s proposal would strip some narrow exemptions for able-bodied adults without dependents who need benefits beyond the three-month window.

“Recognizing the harshness of the time limit and its inability to adjust for unexpected or unique circumstances, Congress allowed states to exempt a small percentage (about 12 percent) of people subject to the time limit,” the analysis read. “States can use these discretionary exemptions in cases when, for example, someone faces a sudden hardship like car trouble or has recently been released from prison or treatment for substance use disorder.

Adding to its arguments, the CBPP also points to the math that another portion of McCarthy’s plan — to repeal funding passed in 2022 to beef up Internal Revenue Service tax collections — roughly cancels out the savings of enforcing new work requirements on SNAP, Medicaid and TANF recipients.

Moody’s and the Committee for a Responsible Budget respectively calculate that repealing the IRS funding will eventually cost the government $100 billion to $114 billion over the next decade. 

Another argument against the SNAP changes: Advocates repeatedly spotlight research finding little evidence that expanded work rules are effective.  

Two recent studies found work requirements did not improve employment or earnings, and at the same time cut people who could have qualified from accessing food benefits.

“Work requirements do not get people out of poverty. Seventy-five percent of SNAP recipients with children who are not disabled or elderly already work. They are just underemployed or underpaid,” Heather Reynolds, of Notre Dame University’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities, told a Senate Committee on Agriculture subcommittee on April 19.

“Our solution must be to give them programs that work towards upward mobility and are proven to be successful, so they can feed their families and live a life outside of poverty,” she continued.

GOP squabbles

In response to McCarthy’s plan, Democrats on the House Committee on Appropriations say the bill will hurt families, seniors and workers with its host of proposed cuts.

Moody’s concludes that under the legislation nondefense discretionary spending could fall to its lowest levels since the 1960s.

The slim House Republican majority means McCarthy can only afford to lose a handful of votes from his own party.

But some think his expansion of work rules on low-income benefits programs does not go far enough.

“An essential element to get my vote for any increase in the debt limit would be enacting work requirements starting in fiscal year 2024 – NOT 2025 as the legislation is currently written. Otherwise, it’s a no vote from me,”  GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida posted to Twitter Monday.  

Gaetz was among the GOP holdouts in January who demanded McCarthy tie spending cuts to a debt ceiling increase in exchange for their support in getting McCarthy the speaker’s gavel.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, who hold a razor-thin majority in the upper chamber, and President Joe Biden say they will stand firm on passing what they call a “clean” debt ceiling bill — meaning raising the nation’s borrowing limit without touching spending.

The U.S. hit its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit on Jan. 19, triggering the U.S. Treasury Department to employ “extraordinary measures,”  or special accounting maneuvers, to continue paying the nation’s bills.

The X-date — the date when Treasury, despite the maneuvers, runs out of cash needed to pay the bills on time — may arrive as early as June, according to Moody’s.

McCarthy is banking on a House vote this week. After Friday, the House is out until May 9.

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

Maine’s housing affordability crisis needs a public option, says lawmaker / by Dan Neumann

The Kennedy Park public housing development in Portland. | Courtesy of the Portland Housing Authority

Originally Published in the Beacon on January 23, 2023

One major potential solution to the state’s runaway cost of housing never seems to get discussed by Maine lawmakers: Public housing.

For decades, the idea of building new publicly-owned, permanently affordable housing has been off the table, even as housing prices ballooned before the Great Recession of 2008 and have now reached new heights in Maine and across the country with national average home sale prices increasing by 35% in less than two years.

Large federal housing projects designed to serve only the poorest of the poor had become synonymous with urban blight, dilapidated highrises, crime and racial segregation. This seemingly unshakeable stigma opened the door for public housing’s dismantling under president Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who banned its expansion with the 1998 Faircloth Amendment. 

Kennedy Park in Portland was built in 1965 as a public housing project after much of the Bayside neighborhood was cleared of slums.| Courtesy of the Portland Housing Authority.

Left without a public way forward, state and local officials in Maine and across the country have searched for solutions to a worsening housing crisis in the private housing market. The centerpiece of last year’s legislative campaign by Maine’s Democratic leaders to increase the housing stock was passing a law altering local single-family zoning rules to allow for the private development of accessory dwelling units.

Those zoning changes to increase housing density were paired with the allocation of additional federal COVID relief funds to MaineHousing, the state’s housing authority, to build more affordable housing through the agency’s existing public-private partnerships, in which they issue tax subsidies to private developers to keep prices low.

Yet there is still a staggering shortage of affordable housing units for sale or rent.  

Housing remains a top priority for lawmakers again this year. Fifty-eight percent of Maine renters are considered low income with severe cost burdens, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And housing costs continue to outpace average household income in almost every Maine county, according to MaineHousing. This will likely only get more severe as rising interest rates make mortgages more expensive and shrink new construction.

And this is why Rep. Grayson Lookner (D-Portland) believes that a public housing option needs to be put back on the table.

“Maine has been in a housing crisis for a long time and it’s only become more and more pitched as time progresses,” Lookner said. “For the longest time, our elected officials at all levels were content to just throw their hands in the air and say, ‘We can’t do anything about it.’ Just letting the developers, landlords and real estate agents dominate the whole discussion.”

Lookner sits on the legislature’s newly established Select Committee on Housing, which was formed to address the housing crisis and consider a slew of recommendations and proposals this year to study land use, increase housing density, mitigate the impacts of short-term rentals, and provide rental assistance.

“It’s a real piecemeal approach. We’re sort of nibbling around the edges and we’re not getting to the heart of what’s causing the crisis, which is the commodification of housing,” Lookner said. “The U.N. has recognized that the commodification of housing is a human rights issue. And it’s not unique to Maine.” 

Lookner has submitted legislation to establish the “Maine Community Housing and Rural Development Authority.” While the details of the bill have not yet been published, Lookner said the plan is to create a revolving fund to build mixed-income housing. Unlike MaineHousing’s development model, this proposed public developer would maintain ownership of the housing it develops which would be governed by the renters themselves. 

The issue of ownership is key, public housing advocates say, as the private-ownership development model that the U.S. has pursued for the last four decades has created an expensive and inefficient way to provide low-income housing. And it produces nowhere near enough.

The end of public housing and the turn to the market

Built by the federal government in 1943 as wartime housing for shipyard workers, Sagamore Village in Portland is now owned by the Portland Housing Authority and provides low-income housing to 200 families. | Courtesy of the Portland Housing Authority

The U.S. has never really done workforce housing. Unlike the well-maintained examples of “social housing” around the globe such as in Austria, where 80% of the country’s population is eligible to live in community-owned housing, public housing here has always been restricted to the very poor. 

This was by design. The real estate industry in the 1930s pressured Congress to exclude middle-class residents from housing projects because they didn’t want to compete with the public sector. Limits were also placed on how much could be spent per housing unit. Concentrated poverty led to the segregated and underfunded housing projects that have defined the American model since.

Now, with the Faircloth Amendment blocking new federal public housing, local housing authorities manage a dwindling number of properties funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administer long waitlists for Section 8 rental assistance vouchers. 

“From the 30s through the 80s, public housing authorities were in high gear, building a lot. Now, they’ve basically cycled down to first gear,” said Paul Williams, the founder of the Center for Public Enterprise, a think tank that advocates on behalf of public goods and services. “They don’t really do much of anything, for the most part. They just manage an existing portfolio of housing and handout vouchers to the next person on the list.”

There are 27,000 Mainers currently on the Section 8 waitlist. People also spend years on waitlists for the few remaining public housing options in Maine, which prioritize the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income families with small children.

As large-scale public housing development fell by the wayside, policymakers attempted to fill the void with the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), a program introduced by HUD under the Reagan administration. The tax credit today produces 90% of the nation’s affordable housing. 

Local housing authorities like MaineHousing use the federal tax credits to entice private businesses to build affordable housing. LIHTCs offset construction and operation costs so that developers can put the units on the market at an affordable rate. Developers are required to maintain those rates for 15 to 30 years.

“It’s pure Reaganomics,” Lookner said. “It’s so the biggest and most profitable developers can get handouts to create temporarily affordable housing.”

Several states have tried to address the limitations of the prevailing public-private model through various fixes. These include placing covenants on LIHTC housing to keep it affordable for longer periods.

But critics of the LIHTC model say these fixes don’t get to the root of the problems inherent in relying on the market to produce affordable housing — namely that it is inefficient and doesn’t receive nearly enough federal funding to produce enough housing to meet the overwhelming need. 

After the financial crisis of 2008 and the collapse of a housing bubble, demand for LIHTCs plummeted as the construction industry tanked. As a result, LIHTCs now produce fewer units than they did 20 years ago, while costing the public 66% more through tax subsidies. The program produced more than 70,000 housing units nationwide in 1997, but that number fell to 59,000 in 2014, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies.

Desperate to meet the demand for low-cost housing, state and local officials from around the country have begun to look outside of the LIHTC program for solutions. 

They’ve rediscovered an old idea. 

Social housing in America

A rendering of a publicly-owned, mixed-income apartment building in Montgomery County, Maryland. | Courtesy of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission

A few years ago, a housing authority in Montgomery County, Maryland leveraged $100 million in public money to create a revolving fund to build publicly-owned, mixed-income apartments in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.. County officials have been slowly building a portfolio of mixed-income properties and they are on track to own 9,000 apartments over the next few years. 

Since they’re not using federal money, Montgomery County’s public housing expansion is not blocked by the Faircloth Amendment.

And similar to the social housing seen around the globe, the key to Montgomery County’s success has been creating publicly-owned housing for all income levels, not just low-income residents. 

Williams explained that a process called cross-subsidization makes their apartments sustainable without being dependent on federal funding to stay afloat. Residents pay different rates. While the rents in LIHTC buildings that only serve low-income residents will never be enough to cover the building owner’s debt payments and operations and maintenance costs, Montgomery County’s cross-subsidized buildings can cover those costs.

“If you set aside, say, a third of the homes for people below the poverty line, a third for people near the area’s median income and a third for people above it, you can break even — or even come out on top, bringing in funds to help finance another mixed-income project,” Williams wrote in Noema Magazine last year.

The mixed-income model also pushes back on several of the old problems associated with public housing in the U.S., Williams said, namely racial segregation and the concentration of poverty. 

While the fledgling attempt at social housing in Montgomery County has caught the notice of housing advocates around the country, Williams warns that the model is operating at nowhere a large enough scale to take the place of LIHTC developments, which still make up the vast majority of new affordable housing in the country. For the moment, he thinks advocates need to see locally-initiated public housing as a supplement to existing federal programs. And such efforts should be pursued in conjunction with rent control, zoning reform, short-term rental regulations and a host of other ideas communities are trying.

“My pitch is that publicly-produced housing allows states and cities to produce more affordable housing than they would otherwise be able to with the existing federal subsidies. It’s a way to kick local housing authorities back into high gear,” he told Beacon.

Williams added that scaling up public developers like the one in Montgomery County will take time. “This is by no means an overnight solution — it requires careful planning, competent bureaucracy, an expansion of state capacity and decades of time to grow our portfolios and house the many,” he wrote. “But it is a way out of the mess we are in.” 

States are becoming public housing developers

Several states and cities are now following in the footsteps of Montgomery County to become public housing developers. 

California, Hawaii, Maryland and now Maine have all introduced legislation to build social housing. Colorado recently created the Middle Income Housing Authority, which plans to build 3,500 units of workforce housing. Seattle voters will weigh in on a referendum in February to build renter-governed housing.

Last summer, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a $10 million pilot program as part of the state’s budget to build mixed-income public housing. The proposal was advanced by state lawmakers with grassroots support from Reclaim RI, an activist group formed by local leaders of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Affordable housing construction in Sacramento. | Mark Hogan, Creative Commons via Flickr

“It’s clear that the private sector, even when it’s booming, is neither willing nor — perhaps better put — able to build enough housing, let alone for the people who need it the most,” said Reclaim RI co-chair Daniel Denvir. “It’s just simply a fact that only the public sector has the potential to build our way out of this housing crisis.”

Reclaim RI is backing a revised piece of legislation this year that would expand on last year’s pilot. The proposal includes using COVID relief funds to establish a permanent revolving fund for a public housing developer and creating a land bank to acquire “unimproved land” or properties that are “tax delinquent, tax foreclosed, subject to municipal receivership, vacant or abandoned.”

Denvir said he has been surprised at the broad-based support the proposal has received so far. 

“I think it is really remarkable that certain things that were previously unthinkable — like new forms of public housing which have been unthinkable since the rise of neoliberalism — suddenly become thinkable and then doable,” he said. 

It remains to be seen how much support a proposal for publicly-developed housing in Maine will gain. Lookner said the housing situation here is as dire as anywhere, and hopes Mainers will be ready to see the tarnished ideal of public housing in a new light.

“Maine has been one of the least affordable states in which to live when comparing rents to wages. This is not news to anyone,” Lookner said. “It’s time to see the problem is the commodification of housing — developers and interested parties treating our homes and our communities as assets to profit from.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at dan@mainebeacon.com.

Maine tribal leaders denounce Sen. King for blocking Wabanaki sovereignty bill / by Lauren McCauley

U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) walks in the US Capitol during a vote on 7 21, 2021 in Wash., DC. | A Moneymaker, Getty Images

Originally published in the Beacon n December 21, 2022

Tribal leaders in Maine say they are “extremely disappointed” that, due to opposition from Sen. Angus King, the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act was not included in the final congressional budget deal announced Tuesday.

The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden and co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, would have adjusted the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, a jurisdictional arrangement between the tribes and the state that Indigenous leaders have long criticized for leaving the Wabanaki Nations with less authority over natural resources, gaming, taxation, criminal justice and economic development than 570 other federally recognized tribes. 

Through the Settlement Act, federal laws that benefit other Indigenous nations around the country only apply to tribes in Maine if they are explicitly included by Congress. HR 6707 would change that going forward to include the Wabanaki in such laws.

“The Wabanaki Nations have never been closer to amending the poorly-designed and intentionally one-sided Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and our inability to be included in this year-end legislation really stings,” said Chief Rena Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik.

“The fact that we have come this far and generated this much support from Mainers should serve as a stark reminder to those that oppose Wabanaki equality. We will not stop. We will keep fighting for a brighter future because all of Maine succeeds when the Wabanaki succeeds,” she added. 

Earlier this month, a study published by the Harvard Kennedy School highlighted how the current arrangement with the tribes has significantly stifled their economic development, which has had a ripple effect throughout rural Maine.

“Perhaps no better economic development policy costing so little money could be implemented now in the State of Maine than removing the restrictive language of MICSA. Yet, Sen. King refuses to support it,” said Chief Clarissa Sabattis of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

Following the lead of Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who opposed the federal legislation in addition to a state bill that would have amended the Settlement Act, King said he has “serious concerns about the legislation in its current form and the unintended consequences it poses for the state of Maine,” according to a statement from his office. 

King’s Communications Director Matthew Felling said the independent would work with the tribes on specific provisions within the more sweeping legislation. “Moving forward, he is committed to continuing to work with the Tribes on specific issues involving the application of federal tribal laws in Maine, such as the Stafford Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act — much like he did with the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act,” he said.

However, Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said the tribes had “directly conferred with Senator King as the legislation was being drafted and purposefully drafted the bill narrowly to address Senator King’s concerns.” 

“It’s hard not to suspect that the senator’s opposition to the legislation is political in nature and not substantive,” Francis added. “The Wabanaki bill would have been a meaningful step towards modernizing an archaic settlement act, and it would have opened doors for much-needed economic opportunities for our tribal communities and rural Maine.”

Both Golden and Pingree expressed disappointment in King and Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ refusal to support the bill. 

“I’m disappointed that this provision, which we passed in the House on a bipartisan basis, fell out of the omnibus spending bill during negotiations with the Senate,” Golden told the Press Herald on Tuesday. “This issue is not settled and I look forward to working with the tribes to make headway on this important issue.”

Pingree added, “We got it through the House, but the two Maine Senators don’t support it. It was attached when it came over from the House but they opposed its inclusion. This one we just couldn’t get agreement on.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Gov. Janet Mills had vetoed the Maine legislation. Rather, the bill died when it was not funded by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

Lauren McCauley is Editor of Maine Beacon. Previously, she was a senior editor at Common Dreams covering national and international politics and progressive news. Lauren also helped produce a number of documentary films, including the award-winning Soundtrack for a Revolution and The Hollywood Complex, as well as one currently in production about civil rights icon James Meredith. Her writing has been featured on Newsweek, BillMoyers.com, TruthDig, Truthout, In These Times,and Extra! the newsletter of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. She currently lives in Kennebunk with her husband, two children, a dog and several chickens. Lauren can be reached at Lauren(at)mainebeacon.com.

Harvard study: Restricting sovereignty has stifled Wabanaki economic development / by Dan Neumann

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on December 8, 2022

new report from Harvard University finds that the state of Maine’s unique control over the Wabanaki Nations has significantly stifled their economic development. 

The report indicates that this is largely the result of the restrictions of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, which limits the tribes’ ability to exercise self-governance over their own affairs.

The tribes are unique among the 574 federally-recognized tribes in the U.S. due to the Settlement Act, which has excluded the tribes from rights and protections created through federal law since its passage 40 years ago.

“Today, all four of the tribes in Maine — Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot — are stark economic underperformers relative to the other tribes in the Lower 48 states,” reads the December 2022 research report authored by Joseph Kalt, Amy Besaw Medford and Jonathan Taylor for the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Wabanaki economic growth not keeping up with other tribes

Graph in the report, “Economic and Social Impacts of Restrictions on the Applicability of Federal Indian Policies to the Wabanaki Nations in Maine” by the the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Since 1989, the researchers found, the income for the average resident of a reservation outside of Maine has increased by more than 61%. But for members of the Wabanaki Nations, average per capita income has only increased by 9% during the same period, while the rest of Maine saw a 25% increase.

The researchers further found that the tribes are significantly underdeveloped economically compared to the rest of Maine. 

Houlton band of Maliseet and Mi’kmaq Nation citizens have the lowest average annual per capita income of the Maine demographic studied at $11,320 and $11,431, respectively. Citizens of the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s two reservations, Indian Township and Pleasant Point, have annual incomes of $14,435 and $13,741. And Penobscot Nation citizens have the highest per capita income of the Wabanaki Nations at $18,809. Yet Maine’s per capita income is nearly double that at $34,593. 

And while Maine’s five-year average child poverty rate is 15.1%, the rate is 40.2% at Passamaquoddy’s Indian Township and 76.9% for children in Mi’kmaq Nation.

A multi-year legislative effort to overhaul the 1980 Settlement Act died in the legislature’s budget-making committee earlier this year. The reforms, pushed for by the tribes and their allies, would have altered tribal-state relations on matters from taxation to gambling to wildlife management. Gov. Janet Mills opposed the legislation, as did Attorney General Aaron Frey, instead signing into a law a compromise that her office brokered that will allow the tribes exclusive control of online sports betting markets.

At the federal level, Democratic Rep. Jared Golden has sponsored legislation that would allow the Wabanaki access to all future federal legislation passed on behalf of tribes. Golden’s legislation has been opposed by members of the forest products industry.

Despite passing the U.S. House last summer, Golden’s bill appears to have stalled in the Senate, where Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has said he opposes the bill. Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she has not taken a position on the measure.

The economic advantages of self-determination

The Harvard University researchers advocate for lifting the 1980 Settlement Act, arguing the economic growth associated with allowing the tribes to fully self-govern would spill over to surrounding communities and the state as a whole.

“The subjugation of the Wabanaki Nation’s self-governing capacities is blocking economic development to the detriment of both tribal and nontribal citizens, alike,” the report reads. “For the tribal citizens of Maine held down by [Settlement Act’s] restrictions, loosening or removing those restrictions offers them little in the way of downside risks and but much in the way of upside payoffs.”

The researchers further warn, “Against these upside prospects is a status quo in which all sides leave economic opportunities on the table and ongoing cycles of intergovernmental conflict, litigation, recrimination, and mistrust continue.”

The research focuses on the economic impacts of legislation that ushered in what tribal scholars call the “Self-Determination Era,” which began with the the 1975 passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act and continued with the 1989 signing of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which freed tribal governments to decide to operate gaming enterprises within tribal nations.

While gaming played a significant role in the economic growth in tribal communities over the last three decades, the researchers stress that the broader benefits of self-determination, not just gaming rights, was a key factor in the economic development.

“By the end of the 1980s, economic development in Indian Country began to take root as tribes built enterprises in, for example, ski tourism, light Defense Department manufacturing, forestry and wildlife management, livestock and crop agriculture and gaming,” the researchers explained, noting that by 1999, 47% of Indigenous people residing on reservations lived on reservations whose tribe did not own and operate a casino.

“Nonetheless,” the report reads, “those reservations experienced inflation-adjusted per capita income growth nearly three-fold greater than the U.S. did as a whole, compared to the slightly greater than three times performance of tribes with casinos.”

The report concludes, “For the tribal citizens of Maine, loosening or removing [the Settlement Act’s] restrictions offers few downside risks and many upside payoffs. There’s nowhere to go but up.”

Photo: Mainers hold signs supporting Wabanaki sovereignty at the State House earlier this year during a legislative campaign to amend the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. | Beacon

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at dan@mainebeacon.com.

Maine News: Activists protest outside Maine mansion of conservative Supreme Court architect / by Evan Popp

Photo: Activists at the protest by Leo’s house on Saturday | Tina Stein  

Activists in Maine protested Saturday outside the Northeast Harbor home of Leonard Leo, the co-chairman of the Federalist Society who has played a leading role in building the conservative Supreme Court majority that recently overturned federal abortion rights. 

Leo famously developed a list of right-wing jurists that included all three of President Donald Trump’s eventual nominees to the bench. Each of those justices — Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — joined in a June court ruling described by advocates as “dangerous and chilling” that overturned Roe v. Wade

The New Yorker has called Leo “in effect, Trump’s subcontractor” on high court nominations. And a writer with the National Review stated in 2016 that, “No one has been more dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade than the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo.”

Leo bought a nearly 8,000 square foot mansion in Northeast Harbor — on Mount Desert Island — during the fall of 2018. In 2019, activists protested outside the house when Sen. Susan Collins attended a private campaign fundraiser there. 

Collins, a Maine Republican, famously cast a pivotal vote in favor of confirming Kavanaugh, one of the conservatives Leo helped elevate to the court, and also voted for Gorsuch. Activists warned that both were hostile to abortion rights, but Collins — who says she is pro-choice — still voted for them, arguing they would respect precedent set by Roe. Wade. Both Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, however, ultimately voted to overturn abortion rights.  

A participant at the protest Saturday | Courtesy photo

Saturday’s protest was the continuation of a number of rallies outside Leo’s mansion, including one in June at which participants celebrated the elevation to the Supreme Court of President Biden nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and gathered to let Leo know “we are for justice, equity and love, not hate.” 

Dixie Hathaway, one of the people at the demonstration over the weekend, said the goal of the rally was to “raise awareness that this person is the one who’s primarily responsible for our Supreme Court and for all the horrible” rulings the court has made. She noted that such awareness is important given that many people don’t know who Leo is. 

“We would like to make him feel uncomfortable,” Hathaway said, adding that some participants have contacted local nonprofits that receive money from Leo to let them know about his background and to make the argument that his donations are “intended to buy acceptance in the community.” 

Hathaway said the court’s June abortion decision is just one harmful ruling the majority Leo helped seat has recently made. During the last term, right-wingers on the bench also severely limited the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to combat climate change and struck down a New York gun control law. 

Hathaway and another demonstrator, Tina Stein, both told Beacon that Leo seemed upset by the protest on Saturday and that the police were called about the demonstration, and Hathaway shared a photo with Beacon of an officer on the scene. However, she said activists stood their ground.

Overall, participants have had a number of productive conversations with people passing by during the demonstrations, Hathaway added. She said many of those people know about Leo and are sympathetic to the protests. 

An attempt to reach Leo for comment about the rally was unsuccessful. 

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan@mainebeacon.com.

Maine Beacon, July 25, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

Opinion: Restoring fairness for the Wabanaki requires Congressional action, too / by Garrett Martin

The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Penobscot Nation, and Mi’kmaq Nation are recognized under federal law. But unlike the 570 other federally recognized tribes, these four tribes in Maine – collectively known as the Wabanaki nations – are unfairly excluded from the very laws and programs Congress creates to benefit Indigenous peoples. Contrary to the aims of these federal programs, the intentional exclusion of the Wabanaki tribes has resulted in increased injustice and economic harm to Indigenous people in Maine. A new bill sponsored by Representative Jared Golden would help restore fairness. HR 6707, the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act, would ensure that tribes in Maine are included in future federal laws and programs intended to benefit all federally recognized tribes.

The exclusion of the Wabanaki tribes is a direct result of the restrictive language of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) and its corresponding Maine legislation, the Maine Implementing Act (MIA). When ratified by Congress through MICSA in 1980, MIA diminished the tribes’ sovereign claims and reduced their standing to that akin to municipalities. Even more harmful, MICSA contains unusual provisions that block most federal Indian law – past, present, and future – from applying to tribes in Maine if the federal law affects the application of Maine law. The Wabanaki are the only federally recognized tribes excluded in this way.

Since 1980, Wabanaki tribes as well as their surrounding rural communities have lost out on the benefits of more than 150 federal laws1 including the Violence Against Women Act, which allows tribes to prosecute non-Indian defendants for domestic violence crimes against tribal members within tribal territory; the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which allows tribes to hire urgently-needed medical professionals licensed in another state; the Stafford Act, which allows tribes to directly seek disaster relief and emergency assistance, and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which authorize tribes to assume primary regulatory authority for administering federal environmental programs on tribal lands. In each of these cases, Maine weaponized MICSA’s restrictive language to wage lengthy and expensive legal battles to deny Wabanaki tribes both the funds and authority granted to all other recognized tribes.

A preliminary analysis suggests that exclusion from federal grant programs cost Wabanaki tribes an average of at least $1.69 million each year in lost funding. Those funds, targeted to support agriculture, infrastructure, education, transportation, justice systems, and food security can never be reclaimed. The state also used MICSA to repeatedly block tribal efforts to launch gaming enterprises while allowing non-tribal commercial operators to reap almost $147 million in gross revenue in 2021.2 Tribal gaming authorized through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is currently the largest generator of revenue in Indian Country. Nationwide in 2019, Indian gaming generated more than $34 billion in gross revenue.3

In 2019 the Maine legislature authorized a task force to review MIA and recommend consensus changes. The task force, which included among its members chiefs of each of the four Wabanaki tribes as well as legislators who voted to pass MIA back in 1980, submitted 22 consensus recommendations.4 Addressing the inability of the Wabanaki to access the benefits of federal legislation is among them. Most of the other recommendations are included in LD 1626, currently awaiting funding approval in the Maine legislature and the support of Governor Mills to become law. Addressing the inequity endured for generations by the Wabanaki requires bold action in both Augusta and Congress.

Rep. Golden’s Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act updates MICSA to allow the Wabanaki tribes to benefit from future laws enacted to benefit Indian tribes. The bill also allows the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to apply to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and Mi’kmaq Nation in the same way that the law applies to the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe. These changes represent an important step towards equalizing the federal treatment of Wabanaki tribes with that of tribes in the rest of the country. The Maine Center for Economic Policy joins the leaders of the four Wabanaki tribes as well as a coalition of more than 90 Maine organizations representing tens of thousands of Mainers to support this bill as well as LD 1626. Together we understand that improving tribal-state relations, reducing costly legal battles, and providing tools for prosperity benefit all who live in Maine.


[1] https://legislature.maine.gov/doc/3815 Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act

[2] https://www.americangaming.org/state/maine-2/ American Gaming Association 2021 State of Play Report

[3] 2019 Indian Gross Gaming Revenues of $34.6B Set Industry Record and Show a 2.5% Increase | National Indian Gaming Commission (nigc.gov)

[4] https://legislature.maine.gov/doc/3815 Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act

Maine Center for Economic Policy, April 20, 2022, https://www.mecep.org/