Homecare referendum heads to voters

Homecare referendum heads to voters

The citizen initiative to allow Maine seniors and people with disabilities to stay in their homes and receive needed care cleared a legislative hurdle in the Maine House of Representatives today, with a 75-68 vote to send the measure directly to voters.

“This vote gives hope to Maine families who are making impossible choices to care for their loved ones, seniors who are afraid of losing their independence and homecare workers who do vital jobs for little pay,” said Mainers for Homecare communications director Mike Tipping. “Maine people will now have a chance to cast a ballot on one of the most important issues facing our aging state.”

The Homecare for All initiative will guarantee access to in-home care for all seniors and Mainers with disabilities who need assistance with an activity of daily living. The program is funded by partially closing a payroll tax loophole that only benefits those making more than $128,400 a year in individual income. Hundreds of volunteers gathered more than 65,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot this November.

Homecare referendum signatures verified

Homecare referendum signatures verified

Maine’s Secretary of State announced today that the grassroots effort to ensure seniors and Mainers with disabilities can get the care they need to stay in their own homes has collected enough valid signatures to place a citizen-initiated referendum on the ballot this November.

64,842 of the submitted signatures have been found to be valid. That’s more than the 61,123 (or 10 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election) required for a Citizen Initiative to go to a statewide vote.

“We all know the challenge we face. In our rapidly-aging state, too many seniors are being forced from their homes and too many people with disabilities can’t get the care they need,” said Miri Lyons of Boothbay Harbor, a former homecare worker and a family caregiver for a child with a disability. “I’m so proud that Mainers are going to be able to vote to solve this problem. This referendum represents a guarantee that if you need help staying in your home, you can get it.”

Within ten days, the Secretary of State will refer the initiative to the legislature, where they can choose to pass the measure into law or send it out to Maine voters.

If passed, the ballot measure would guarantee home care is available for any Maine senior or person with a disability who needs assistance with an activity of daily living, regardless of their family situation or income level. The law also includes measures to assist family caregivers and make licensed homecare a more attractive career, including guaranteeing higher wages for homecare workers.

“You might think that veterans would already be covered for homecare, but for too many vets that’s not the case,” said Skip Worcester, a U.S. Army veteran from Hermon who helped collect signatures for the initiative. “Veterans who need long-term help are frequently sent to facilities, often far away from their families. That’s just wrong. The least we can do is make sure those who fought for our country can live with freedom and independence in their own homes.”

Additional care guaranteed by the measure is paid for by partially closing a payroll and unearned income tax loophole on income in excess of $128,400 a year. Currently, individuals making in excess of that amount don’t pay into Social Security for income above that threshold.

Hundreds of volunteers have gathered signatures for the measure across the state at polling places, post offices, coffee shops and parking lots over the last several months, often braving freezing temperatures to connect with registered voters and build support for the campaign.

Homecare for all referendum campaign submits more than 67,000 signatures

Homecare for all referendum campaign submits more than 67,000 signatures

Seniors, care workers, family members of Mainers with disabilities and campaign volunteers gathered at the State House in Augusta today to announce that they have hit their signature goal and are submitting more than 67,000 signatures to Maine’s Secretary of State to place a citizen initiative on the November ballot guaranteeing access to in-home care.

“We all know the problem. In our rapidly-aging state, too many seniors are being forced from their homes and too many people with disabilities can’t get the care they need,” said Miri Lyons of Boothbay Harbor, a former homecare worker and a family caregiver for a child with a disability. “Homecare for all will fix that. It’s a guarantee that if you need help staying in your home, you can get it.”

Hundreds of volunteers have been gathering signatures for the measure across the state at polling places, post offices, coffee shops and parking lots over the last several months, often braving freezing temperatures to connect with more than ten percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last election for governor. 61,123 valid signatures are required to place a citizen initiative on the ballot.

“You might think that veterans would already be covered for homecare, but for too many vets that’s not the case,” said Skip Worcester, a U.S. Army veteran from Hermon. “Veterans who need long-term help are frequently sent to facilities, often far away from their families. That’s just wrong. The least we can do is make sure those who fought for our country can live with freedom and independence in their own homes.”

In addition to guaranteeing home care is available for any senior or Mainer with a disability who needs assistance with an activity of daily living, regardless of their family situation or income level, the ballot measure also includes measures to assist family caregivers and make homecare a more attractive career, including higher wages and greater professionalization.

“I work full time and make eleven dollars and fifty cents an hour. Starting pay at my company is minimum wage. I rely on food stamps and Section Eight to keep my son fed and housed,” said Maddie Hart, a home care worker from Auburn. “My work is challenging, dangerous, and skilled. Homecare workers deserve to be paid enough to support our families. This referendum will help get us there.”

Additional care guaranteed by the measure is paid for by partially closing a payroll and unearned income tax loophole on income in excess of $127,000 a year.

Once signatures are validated by the office of Maine’s Secretary of State, the initiative will go before the legislature, where they may choose to adopt it as law or send it to a public vote.

“I will always be grateful to the caregivers who helped me to care for my mother in the last years of her life,” said Bonnie Laughlin, a senior from Limington who helped to gather signatures for the initiative. “We need more caregivers and more options for Maine seniors to get their care at home. I like so many things about this homecare bill.”

Mainers Launch Universal In-Home Care Referendum Campaign

Mainers Launch Universal In-Home Care Referendum Campaign

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.