A Republican state senator in Maine has introduced a bill that would create a Cabinet-level Office of New Mainers. The bipartisan legislation is in response to concerns about the state’s aging workforce, and recognition that immigrant workers represent a potential resource for meeting the state’s current and future labor force needs.
According to Census figures, nearly 1 in 5 Mainers is over the age of 65, and the state has the oldest median age in the nation. Just 3.5 percent of the state’s population was born abroad, a number that is far below the national average of 13 percent foreign-born residents.
The legislation was introduced by Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta). A press release from the senator’s office describes key features of the bill, titled An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New Mainers To Strengthen the Workforce (LD 1492). The bill would create an Office of New Mainers headed by a director who would:
- Coordinate with state agencies and programs to attract, educate, integrate and retain immigrants into Maine’s workforce. Specific agencies mentioned include the state’s departments of Labor; Education; Economic and Community Development; Health and Human Services; and Professional and Financial Regulation.
- Administer programs, projects and grants to attract, educate, integrate and retain immigrants into the state’s workforce, economy and communities.
- Develop metrics to evaluate outcomes.
- Establish a committee to provide input and guide the development and implementation of the comprehensive plan. Committee members would include a wide range of stakeholders, including a representative from the state workforce board; three Chamber of Commerce representatives; a postsecondary education representative; and a person with “extensive experience in providing educational instruction to adult English Language Learners.”
The press release also notes that the bill would establish a Welcome Center Initiative to provide vocational training for foreign-trained workers, match those individuals with employers in areas experiencing a shortage of trained workers and establish three grant programs to provide support to immigrants, communities and adult education programs to achieve the stated goals.
In recognition of the critical role that English language acquisition plays in economic integration, the bill specifies that the Welcome Centers would be housed within existing adult education administrative structures. To ensure that job-training activities are demand-driven, organizations seeking funding under this program must collaborate with local employers to identify skill needs and develop interventions that address those needs.
The bill’s total projected price tag is $2 million. If enacted, Maine would join six other states that have established state-level Offices of New Americans or other initiatives designed to ensure that immigrant residents are incorporated into the labor market and broader society. Those states are California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. In 2015, the Pew Immigration and the States Project released a short analysis of such state-level efforts.