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MAINERS LAUNCH NATION’S FIRST REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN FOR UNIVERSAL HOME CARE
(SOUTH PORTLAND, ME) – In the nation’s oldest state, volunteers will soon begin circulating petitions for a bold new citizen initiative to make sure every senior and person with a disability has access to care and assistance to let them stay in their home. Today, local campaign leaders, seniors, veterans and home care workers gathered at the home of Artis and John Bernard in South Portland, Maine, 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 local 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 requiring aging services. With the highest median age at 44.2 years, almost 1 in 5 people in Maine is already over age 65, second only to Florida. Nationally, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day and 70 percent will need some form of assistance to stay independent. This demographic shift is driving a surge in the need for care. Yet Medicare and other health and assistance programs don’t provide the support for many to age at home with dignity.
Kevin Simowitz, political director at Caring Across Generations, a national caregiving advocacy campaign, hailed the referendum as a potential “national blueprint” for addressing the needs of a growing number of caregiving families regardless of their income.
“Maine is the first state to put forward such a bold vision that can be realized directly by the power of the people, and that speaks to the desires of families and the changing needs of our aging communities,” said Simowitz. “Caring Across Generations is excited to be a part of this launch, and to support innovative campaigns across the country to change the way we care.”
“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 the shortage of 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.
The campaign will need to collect 61,123 signatures by early next year to place the measure on the 2018 ballot.