PARIS — Several local church leaders have come out against proposed cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services budget.
Last week, nine local clergy signed an open letter to local state senators and representatives asking them to reject the budget cuts.
“While churches play a role in offering care to those who need it, we are in no way able to handle the results of these proposed cuts,” the letter states.
The proposed cuts are part of Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to solve a $221 million shortfall in the state budget. While the proposed cuts are Republican-led, Don Mayberry of the First Congregational Church in Paris said the clergy who signed the letter didn’t see it as a political issue.
“Our concern as pastors is a pastoral concern, not a political concern,” Mayberry said Thursday.
“We’re not politicians. We don’t want to be in politics. But our pastoral hearts were broken by these suggestions that would put so many people at risk.”
The letter lists potential effects of the cuts, including 60,000 Mainers off MaineCare, the loss of Head Start programs for children and the projected loss of 4,000 health care related jobs.
“We often say that we all want the same thing but simply see a different road to get there,” the letter states. “That is not the case this time.”
The Rev. Anne Stanley, former rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Norway, helped organize the campaign to get other clergy to sign on. She noted the full Oxford Hills clergy group didn’t sign the letter, and that the nine who did sign it were not representing their congregations.
Mayberry said several clergy declined to sign it, not wanting to weigh in on a political issue.
Still, Mayberry said he found it “heartwarming” that a wide variety of clergy signed the letter, from Unitarians to Evangelicals to Roman Catholics. “It was really very broad,” he said.
Stanley said she was concerned not just about the people who would lose health care but about the increased toll on churches who help the poor.
“People say, ‘Well, that’s the job of the church to do this. That’s the church’s function,’” she said. “The churches can’t pick up the slack, the money that would be needed to maintain services for people who need help. There’s no way.”
“The churches need to be the inspiration for people all over the place to pitch in,” she said.
Stanley and Mayberry signed the letter, along with pastors Dallas Henry and Eric Hanson of Hosanna Church in Oxford, the Rev. Richard Beal, formerly of the First Universalist Church of Norway, the Rev. Leslie Foley of Second Congregational United Church of Christ in Norway, the Rev. Richard McLaughlin of St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church in Norway, Pastor Willy Farnum of Mission Congregational Church, UCC, in West Paris, and the Rev. Henry Male of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Rumford.