Volume 29 Issue 1

Policy in Brief:

This issue of Maine Policy Review contains articles on a variety of subjects including rural healthcare, workforce development, Maine’s wine industry, workplace safety, the social safety net, and the student loan crisis. As noted by executive editor Linda Silka in her reflections on Vol. 29 No. 1, this particular issue tackles not only longstanding policy concerns in Maine but also several new ones. Taken together, these articles link together the past, present, and future contexts of policy decisions in Maine. This allows us to examine how Maine is changing, how we can assess the rapidity of that change, what causes the changes to occur, what parts of these changes are controllable by Mainers and what parts are controlled by outside sources, and finally what do these changes indicate about the policies that need to be put in place in Maine.  Once again, our contributors have brought their deep and extensive understanding of relevant research to policy analyses and recommendations. MPR is a unique resource and a valuable asset to Maine’s policymakers as few other states have a nonpartisan journal that brings together research, science, and policy from a diverse array of authors. We hope you enjoy.

Fascinating Features:

President of the University of Maine and University of Maine at Machias, Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy wrote the Margaret Chase Smith Essay for Volume 29, Issue 1. The commentary entitled, “The University of Maine: Playing All Positions in the Policy Game.” outlines how UM & UMM are positioned to help further the goals of the 2020–2029 Maine Economic Development Strategy. The central strategies focused on talent and innovation (grow local talent, attract new talent, promote innovation) align well with the university’s mission. (2 pages)

In “The Dilemma of Nursing Home Closures: A Case Study of Rural Maine Nursing Homes,” Mary McSweeney-Feld and Nadine Braunstein argue that nursing home closures in the United States have accelerated in the past five years. Reasons for these closures include inadequate Medicaid reimbursement, increased emphasis on short-term rehabilitative stays for Medicare residents, geographic location of nursing homes, presence of hospital swing bed programs, and changes in Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulatory requirements for nursing homes. Increased minimum wage rates and limited on-the-job worker training have also led to staffing shortages, forcing bed reductions in nursing homes. This paper examines the premise that low Medicaid reimbursement is the primary reason for the closures of Maine nursing homes. The article evaluates state cost assumptions that determine Medicaid payments for skilled nursing care, programs for long-term care workforce development, and growth in service alternatives from hospital swing bed programs to home- and community-based services. (10 pages)

Thomas Remington from Harvard University argued in “Institutional Challenges to Workforce Development in Maine.” that the problem of workforce development in Maine has become acute. An important factor for understanding the issue of workforce development, in Maine and nationally, is rising economic inequality. High inequality impedes the working of labor markets, and over time, reduces opportunity and mobility. In Maine, as elsewhere, income gaps have widened between rich and poor while the middle class has been shrinking. Moreover, the gap between high-income and low-income counties has been growing. Meantime, many good-paying jobs are going unfilled. Comprehensive institutional solutions can help overcome these problems by matching supply and demand in the labor market, but they are not simple or cheap. Three such arrangements are described: apprenticeships; specialized wraparound programs focusing on disadvantaged or marginalized individuals; and college-and-career readiness programs aimed at secondary-level students. These solutions require effective intermediary organizations that foster sustained trust and cooperation among business, education, government, and the civic sector. (10 pages)

Consumers, businesses and business sectors, and policymakers are increasingly concerned with sustainability, and the global wine industry has long acknowledged concerns about the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of their industry. In their article, “Sustainability of Maine’s Emerging Wine Industry,” Michaela Murray, Mark Haggerty, and Stephanie WelcomerSeveral wine regions, including France, Australia, and South Africa, have developed workbooks and policies for sustainable wine production, but Maine’s emerging wine industry has yet to explore the concept of sustainability as it relates to its operations. In this project, designed in collaboration with the Maine Winery Guild, we interviewed the owners of 10 Maine wineries and analyzed how they define and enact sustainability along with the obstacles they face in sustainability efforts. This research aims to provide baseline information that will help the guild and policymakers formulate actions that enable Maine’s wine industry to grow and compete with other sustainability-conscious wine regions. (13 pages)

Map of Maine wine guild producers.

Jeremy Pare of Thomas College notes that according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Maine’s boatyards are a high-hazard industry, given the many potential threats their employees face daily. Maine’s boatyards struggle with OSHA regulations because OSHA’s command-and-control rules leave little room for flexibility, and as evidenced by the boatyards’ high workers’ compensation costs and injury rates, implementation does not effectively protect boatyard workers. This article investigates whether changes to OSHA’s 50-year-old punitive regulatory strategy can influence the way boatyards self-regulate and decrease hazards and minimize the risk of injury to workers. Through focus groups and interviews, the article provides evidence that changes within OSHA’s regulatory strategy are necessary to decrease the hazards present in Maine boatyards. Suggested changes include site-specific injury and illness prevention programs and more frequent inspections with opportunities for boatyards to fix issues. These improvements should increase cooperative efforts between OSHA, the state of Maine, and Maine’s boatyards and reduce the number of worker injuries. “Worker Safety in Maine’s Boatyards: Improving OSHA Compliance Efforts.” (12 pages)

Map of Maine's Boatyards

There are also two brief commentaries and one column in this issue. Ryan LaRochelle discusses the consequences of declining economic opportunity and a shrinking social safety net for Maine in  “Declining Economic Opportunity and a Shrinking Safety Net: Consequences for Maine.” LaRochelle recommends that policymakers in Augusta recognize how precarious many Mainers’ economic situations are and take action. (3 pages)

In the second commentary, Jonathan Wood articulates why Maine’s recent history as an Arctic player and a detached federal administration, coupled with other Near-Arctic subnational entities creating their own Arctic strategies it is a good time for Maine to articulate its own Arctic strategy. “Maine and the Arctic: Why Maine Should Develop an Arctic Strategy.” (6 pages)

Finally, in his column, Daniel S. Soucier discusses the structural inequalities that exist in the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit. He argues that the favoritism of STEM careers in the writing of the legislation unintentionally exclude individuals based on gender and regardless of their actually work circumstances. “Structural Inequalities in the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit.”  (3 pages)

Dig Deeper:

Maine Policy Review Vol. 29, No. 1 (2020)