BOSTON (AP) – U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of Maine touted John Kerry’s health care plan Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention, saying it would provide relief to families and small-business owners while halving the number of Americans uninsured.

With the convention in its third day, Allen took his turn at the podium to turn delegates’ attention to health care issues.

He said Mainers are telling him “in increasingly anxious and insistent voices: ‘We must have help to provide our families and employees with health insurance. We cannot afford the health care we need.”‘

The congressman said that for the last four years, “their voices, their pleas for help, have not been heard in the White House. But John Kerry hears your voices, and I say today: Help is on the way!”

Earlier, Maine delegates led by Gov. John Baldacci pitched in at a Boston food bank after hearing a call to action by Ann Richards, who preceded George W. Bush as Texas governor, and had a surprise visit by celebrity Rob Reiner.

Allen said small business owners who are struggling with health care costs should vote for Kerry because the Democratic presidential candidate has a plan to reduce their insurance premiums.

Kerry’s health care plan also expands coverage to those who lack it, Allen said.

It would hold down premiums by having the federal government absorb the risk for catastrophic medical expenses, said Allen. That would decrease risks for the industry, said Allen, Maine’s four-term 1st District congressman from Portland.

“We simply can’t afford as a country to have 43 million people without health insurance, so we have to expand coverage dramatically, and his plan would do that,” Allen said in an interview prior to his speech.

A Republican health insurance plan would extend coverage to only 300,000 to 500,000 people, Allen said, while Kerry’s plan would cover more than half of the uninsured.

Earlier in the day, women’s issues were the topic as Richards, who served as Texas governor until George W. Bush defeated her 10 years ago, gave a breakfast briefing to Maine delegates.

Richards said many women, especially single mothers who are preoccupied with raising their families and earning a living, are not involved in the political process and undecided how they’ll vote.

But Richards said programs most important to them, such as after-school care, are threatened under the present administration in Washington.

Richards, who gave the keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic convention when she was Texas treasurer, urged the delegates to get the vote out in November for Kerry so programs important to women can be preserved.

The Maine delegation received an unscheduled visit from director Reiner, who is politically active. On Tuesday, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine touted his party’s commitment to education.

At the Greater Boston Food Bank, Baldacci led about 25 of Maine’s 35 delegates including state Attorney General Steven Rowe and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, as they packed boxes in assembly-line fashion.

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