Volunteers will soon begin circulating petitions for a new citizen initiative to make sure every Maine senior and person with a disability in the state has access to care and assistance to let them stay in their home. On Wednesday, campaign leaders, seniors, veterans and home care workers gathered at the home of Artis and John Bernard in South Portland to officially launch the campaign.
“Every day, families across Maine are stuck facing the incredible stress of choosing between spending down their life’s savings on care for aging family members, quitting their job to provide that care themselves, or simply letting family members suffer without the care they need,” said Ben Chin, political engagement director for the Maine People’s Alliance, part of a coalition of senior and public advocacy organizations backing the referendum. “That’s why today we are proud to launch the Senior Care for All ballot measure to guarantee all seniors and Mainers with disabilities have access to in-home care.”
The number of Mainers over age 65 is expected to double by 2030, with tens of thousands more seniors requiring aging services. Medicare and other health and assistance programs currently don’t provide the support needed for many to age at home with dignity.
“You might think that because I’m a vet my care would be covered, but you’d be wrong,” said Skip Worcester, a U.S. Army veteran from Holden. “VA health plans often only cover short-term in-home treatment. Veterans who need long-term help are sent to facilities, often far away from their families. That’s just wrong. They fought for our country and the least we can do is fight to keep them in their own homes.”
The initiative also tackles the problem of too few home health aides in Maine by increasing wages and training for home care workers and professionalizing home care careers. Currently, most home care workers earn just over minimum wage.
“Right now it’s far too difficult for Maine seniors to get the care they need to stay in their homes and it’s far too difficult for families like mine to make ends meet while doing this vital work,” said Miri Lyons, a home care worker from Boothbay Harbor. “No one should have to go deep into debt to care for a loved one. No one should be sent away because their family can’t afford to help them. And no one should live in poverty while doing the important work of caring for others.”
The referendum proposes to fund access to in-home care through a payroll tax increase of 1.9% from employees and employers on salaries and wages over $127,000 a year. This tax reform partially closes the loophole that allows the wealthy to avoid paying additional Social Security payroll taxes.
“Senior care for all means an end to worrying about not being able to properly care for those who cared for us. Ending that worry is certainly worth making our tax system a little more fair and making sure the wealthy pay a bit more of their share,” said Rachel Phipps, a small business owner and member of the Maine Small Business Coalition.
Kevin Simowitz of Caring Across Generations, a national caregiving advocacy organization, hailed the referendum as a potential “national blueprint” for addressing the needs of changing demographics.
“Maine is the first state to put forward such a bold vision at the ballot that speaks to the desires of families and the changing needs of our aging communities. Caring Across Generations is excited to be a part of this launch, and this campaign to change the way we care,” said Simowitz.
The campaign will need to collect 61,123 signatures by early next year to place the measure on the 2018 ballot.