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Guest Column in Rockland Courier-Gazette

AUGUSTA - Two Democratic legislators delivered almost 100 pounds of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to Gov. John Baldacci on behalf of a group of children that collected the money to help pay for children's mental health services slated to be cut in the state budget in 2005.

Rep. Ben Dudley of Portland, and Hannah Pingree of North Haven, said along with delivering the change, they were delivering a message— the state should not be cutting services to children's health services.

The Legislature is reviewing the governor's proposed supplemental 2005 budget, which must close a $128 million shortfall in MaineCare (Medicaid) funding. The governor's proposal cuts 15 types of MaineCare services and retains 38 others. The Appropriations Committee began reviewing the budget recently, and on Monday over 1,000 people attended a hearing on the budget proposal. Many speakers criticized the budget proposal for eliminating or reducing services for the state's most vulnerable citizens.

As part of the 2004-2005 budget passed in April 2003, significant cuts were made to children's mental health services. Members of the Appropriations Committee said at the time that restoring those cuts were a top priority. Democratic members of the committee said they planned in the current supplemental budget to restore those services.

"I told the governor this contribution comes from the families and children receiving these services and they wanted to make a contribution toward keeping the state from having to cut these vital services," said Dudley, who is a member of the Appropriations Committee. "This gesture really drives home how vital these services are to these children and their families. Let's not leave these kids behind as we try to put this budget together."

Pingree, also a member of the committee, said: "The governor told us he would keep the coins in his office as a reminder of what Maine children were willing to contribute. Coming up with a supplemental budget that addresses the shortfall without devastating services for the people who need them is going to be our primary concern."

Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, said he will propose an amendment to the supplemental budget to restore children's mental health grants.

"Children must be held harmless in this budget," Faircloth said. "The Kids Count Report makes clear that hospitalization for children has increased dramatically. Cutting mental health services would exponentially aggravate this problem."

Rep. Hannah Pingree, 867-2336
Casey Johnson, Legislative Aide, 287-1430

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Hannah Pingree OnlineHannah Pingree is the House Representative of Maine District 36 covering Brooklin, Deer Isle, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, part of Mount Desert, North Haven, Stonington, Swans Island and Tremont and Vinalhaven. Paid for by the Committee to Re-Elect Hannah Pingree, Foy W. Brown, Treasurer. Logo by Amy Fischer Designs of Camden, Maine.