FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 27, 2016

Contact:  Cathy Breen (207-329-6142)

Sen. Breen decries Maine insurer for ditching abortion coverage

AUGUSTA — Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, is decrying a decision by Community Health Options to stop covering elective abortions, starting next year.

News reports on Wednesday indicated that Community Health Options, a Lewiston-based health insurance co-op with more than 65,000 policyholders, was dropping abortion coverage as a cost-saving measure.

“Mainers should know that as a result of CHO’s decision, Maine women will suffer,” said Sen. Breen. “The choice CHO is making is a shame and a disappointment, but perhaps not a surprise. After all, politicians in Congress and health insurers across the country have for decades been more than willing to treat women’s health coverage as somehow separate or lesser than other health needs.”

Costs of abortion range from approximately $550 up to $10,000, and the procedure becomes more expensive and risky during the course of a pregnancy. Forcing women to pay out of pocket means delaying the procedure as they try to pull together the money to pay the bill — increasing both the risk and the cost to patients. 

The decision not to cover so-called “elective” abortions includes failure to cover some of the most heart-wrenching complications of pregnancy. For example, a woman who learns in her third trimester that her fetus will not be viable outside the womb will be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, or pay for her abortion out-of-pocket.

“Once again, low-income women who are unable to pay out-of-pocket costs will be denied the same access to safe, legal abortion that their wealthier counterparts enjoy,” said Sen. Breen. “Policies like the one adopted by CHO create real hardships on Maine women, and interfere with their rights to make decisions about their health care and their families without interference by politicians or bureaucrats. I urge CHO to reconsider this decision, for the thousands of Maine women who will face new burdens if they continue down this path.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 12, 2016

Contact:  Cathy Breen (207-329-6142)

Sen. Breen Announces that the FAFSA is Changing

AUGUSTA — As Maine students return to school, Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, wants to ensure that they and their families know about a recent change regarding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. 

Instead of waiting until the new year to file the FASFA, families can now file it beginning on October 1, 2016. In addition, students will be able to file using an earlier year’s tax information.

The FAFSA is the form that families must submit to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study funds for college students. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides more than $150 billion in student aid each year.

In the past, students typically had to wait until January 1 for the FAFSA to become available so they could begin the financial aid application process. This late timing often resulted in students receiving their financial aid awards late in the college decision-making process, potentially causing students to choose a school hastily and thereby take on more student loan debt than might have been necessary.

“Completing and submitting the FAFSA is the single most important thing a family can do to get assistance paying for college, and it’s one of the best ways to minimize student loan borrowing,” said Martha Johnston, Director of Education for the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME). “Too often, we see students who don’t complete the FAFSA or submit it late and miss critical deadlines and they often miss out on potential grants,” she added.

Maine students left $11.5 million in Pell Grants on the table for the 2014-2015 academic year, according to NerdWallet. The average student debt in Maine is $31,000 per student, and 68 percent of Maine students graduate with debt.

Helping Maine Families Find Money for Higher Education 

What does this big change mean for Maine families in the college planning process?

1.       The financial aid process now aligns more closely with the college admissions process. 

2.       There’s no longer a need to estimate income. Based on the old timeline, families were required to use the prior year’s tax information. Because a tax return for that year had often not yet been filed, families would estimate income (so as not to miss deadlines) and then go back into the FAFSA and update income information after taxes had been processed. For the 2017-2018 academic year, students and their families will report 2015 tax income information. This means that accurate, processed income information will be available when initially filing the FAFSA. In fact, students can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the FAFSA to transfer 2015 income information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA.

3.       There may be more time to understand financial aid options: The hope is that students will know sooner how much aid they’ve qualified for and have more time to evaluate their options. Earlier notification is key to helping families make more informed decisions about where the student will attend school and how the family will pay for it.

4.       It removes some of the pressure families feel about the financial aid process, which has been tightly compressed into a 4-month period given the previous January 1 form release date and the May 1 college acceptance deadlines.

Help Sessions Provide Key Support

Sen. Breen is pleased to announce that help is available regarding the financial aid process. FAME will be sponsoring free In-Person FAFSA Help Session series, which take place annually around the state. At those events, families can speak directly with FAME representatives and get help completing the FAFSA. This year will mark the 13th year of this impactful series, which begins on October 13 and continues for four weeks to November 10. Locally, events will be held at:

·         Region 10 Technical High School in Brunswick on October 25 at 6 PM

·         Portland Arts & Technology High School on November 5 at 9 AM

·         Westbrook Regional Vocational Center on November 9 at 6 PM

For the complete list of FAFSA Help Sessions, please visit here. FAME also offers families ongoing support online at FAMEmaine.com/FAFSA

Johnston concluded: “We encourage students to file the FAFSA as early as they can because some schools award aid on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s really no downside to filing early. Also students need to pay attention to financial aid deadlines. Many Maine schools have not yet announced their financial aid deadlines but they may be earlier than in the past because of this change.”

About the Finance Authority of Maine [FAME]:

FAME is a quasi-independent state agency that provides innovative financial solutions to help Maine people and businesses pursue educational and business opportunities. FAME helps to lead the creation of good paying jobs for Maine citizens by working at the nexus between economic and workforce development. To learn more about FAME, please visitwww.famemaine.com.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 11, 2016

Senate Dems question lack of transparency in DHHS contracting

Breen and Haskell: Seemingly unnecessary sole-source contract is troubling

AUGUSTA — Senate Democrats are asking questions about why Gov. Paul LePage’s administration gave control of a critical state program for infants to a third-party without a competitive bidding process and without availing itself of the checks and balances built in to the state procurement protocol.

A report in Thursday’s Bangor Daily News described how the administration had “quietly handed off financial oversight” of Maine Families, a $23 million program that provides home visitations to new parents. By working with parents, home visitors have successfully reduced abuse and neglect and improved health for thousands of infants and families.  

The report said the contract was awarded after “a closed decision-making process, the state’s questionable justification to avoid competitive bidding, and limited communication about the transfer of a multimillion-dollar state program to the nonprofit sector.”

“The administration has always said the competitive bidding process makes state contractors more accountable and protects taxpayer dollars. I agree, which is why I’m at a loss for why this contract was handled behind closed doors and without seeking bids,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. “The Legislature needs to take a look at state procurement rules. We need to know that transparency and accountability are baked into the process.”

Maine Families had been administered by a collection of groups across the state for years, with financial oversight maintained by the state. However, in April, Gov. LePage and his health commissioner, Mary Mayhew, signed away the program without a competitive bid or public input. The deal was also made without consultation with the state Attorney General -- a procedural safeguard in the procurement process -- thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. LePage making that safeguard “optional.”

The report described how even board members of Maine Children’s Trust, the nonprofit awarded the sole-source contract, had questions and misgivings about the scope of its new work, the process by which it was awarded, and the effect it could have on the board’s independent advocacy for Maine children.

“Sole-source contracts are a necessary part of government in the case of an emergency, but I can’t for the life of me see what caused the urgent need for the state to give up its role in ensuring this program’s success,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland. “The facts presented in this report are troubling. As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I would welcome an explanation from the administration.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sen. Breen: No reason to politicize conservation, environmental stewardship

Lead Senate Democrat on Environment Committee urges all to work together to protect natural resources

AUGUSTA — Sen. Cathy Breen of Falmouth, the lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, released the following statement regarding Gov. Paul LePage’s recent attacks on the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“There’s no good reason to politicize conservation and environmental stewardship,” said Sen. Breen. “Our state’s environmental resources and the heritage industries and recreational opportunities they support are among Maine’s greatest assets. We all care about doing the right thing for the environment, so I’m willing to work with anyone – whether it’s the NRCM or Gov. Paul LePage, should he be willing – to find solutions to protect our waters, our lands and our air for generations to come. With our shared goal in mind, we should be able to disagree without resorting to underhanded tactics against individuals and groups who should be our allies. That’s not the kind of government Mainers expect or deserve.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 30, 2016

Sen. Cathy Breen named Legislator of the Year by Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

AUGUSTA – Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, received the Legislator of the Year Award from the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics at their Spring Conference on April 30.

In 2015 Sen. Breen was a leader in establishing a study on the social and emotional learning and development of Maine’s young children – work that led the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to recognize her today. Given her expertise in this area, she also led a breakout session on this topic at the conference.

“Supporting the social and emotional learning and development of our youngest Mainers sets them up for future successes,” said Sen. Breen. “There’s too much at stake in Maine’s future to let anyone slip through the cracks.”

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