First Citizen-led Campaign with Bold New Solution to Provide Long-term Care Launches in Nation’s Oldest State

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New study says waitlists could be eliminated and care services could be expanded to cover almost five times as many Mainers currently being served

Universal home care in Maine could be model for an aging nation

Portland, ME (September 21, 2018) — Seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, care workers, activists, business leaders, and their families have been campaigning tirelessly to pass Question 1 on the ballot in Maine this November. If passed, the initiative would create the nation’s first universal home care fund to provide in-home care to any Mainer with a long-term care need by partially closing the Social Security tax loophole on individual annual income exceeding $128,400.

A new study just released by The Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, available online here, shows that the program would make 27,000 Mainers eligible to receive in-home care, many of whom currently receive no help at all in meeting their family’s care needs. The program could also help to eliminate waiting lists and support long overdue reform efforts to improve Maine’s Medicaid long-term services and supports system, which hasn’t been updated in twenty years.

“Most of those 27,000 Mainers are currently in the position of making impossibly difficult choices, running through whatever savings they might have to pay for care or leaving the workforce to become a family caregiver for a parent or spouse,” said Kevin Simowitz, Political Director Caring Across Generations, a national caregiving advocacy campaign. “Without universal homecare, those families will remain without help for the care they need.”

In Maine, full-time home care costs on average $54,000 per year – more than the state’s median household income. Nationally, loss of productivity due to caregiving costs businesses $25.2 billion annually.

Meanwhile, the enormous cost of care has failed to trickle down to the salaries of the home care workers who perform this vital work. Home care workers, in Maine and across America, are underpaid, earning just above minimum wage without benefits, making it very difficult for them to take care of themselves or their families. This has contributed to a 67 percent turnover rate in a workforce that is already facing dire shortages.

Miri Lyons, a former home care worker from Boothbay Harbor, ME, says, “Until a few months ago, I worked as a full-time care worker, a part-time care worker, and as a Zumba instructor, in addition to being a family caregiver. After years of struggling to make ends meet, I had to file for bankruptcy. Receiving between only $10–12.50 per hour, coupled with the cost of healthcare, made it impossible for me to have enough for my family.” Lyons ended up leaving her job as a care worker to work in a community health center.

No one should have to face impossible choices like these, which is why Question 1 – in addition to making it easier for seniors to age in their homes – also includes several notable features aimed at better valuing the work of caregiving and supporting the people who do this vital work, such as:

  • A requirement that home care agencies pass 77 percent of the money they receive from the fund on to home care workers, strengthening the care workforce by providing a living wage, benefits, and opportunities for workforce development and training
  • A stipend for family caregivers to provide care for their loved ones at home
  • A trust fund board membership that provides workers and care consumers, including family caregivers, along with agencies, an equal say in how funds are administered, providing workers and family caregivers with a long overdue voice in how care is administered

Paul Osterman, Economist, MIT Sloan School of Management Professor and author of Who Will Care for Us?, says, “Maine, along with the rest of America, faces a crisis in long-term care as the baby boomer generation ages. Question 1 will enable families to afford paid care and assure that the help is actually available because the jobs of paid caregivers will be more fairly compensated. It is an important step forward.”

As a national caregiving advocacy campaign, Caring Across Generations has supported innovative state-led movements to create and implement solutions addressing the depth of families’ growing care needs. Last year, the campaign was instrumental in passing the Kupuna Caregivers Program in Hawaii, which provides a $70 per day benefit to working family caregivers so they can help their aging loved ones live at home while being able to stay in their jobs. If passed, the initiative in Maine would be groundbreaking change in increasing access to the type of long-term care most seniors prefer while strengthening the care workforce on a scale previously unseen.

Says Ai-jen Poo, co-founder of Caring Across Generations, “Women are already struggling in the economy, but more and more of us are dealing with caregiving responsibilities for our families that we have no support around. Maine, as our nation’s oldest state, represents the future that all of us will face in the coming years. Universal Home Care would not only make a huge difference for aging Mainers, but also set an example for states across the country to better support caregivers and put women on a different footing in the economy.”

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