AUGUSTA, Maine — The top Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate are criticizing Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves for refusing to call the Legislature back into session to discuss a highly politicized attempt by the governor to funnel more money into the state’s nursing homes.
A day before the Legislature was scheduled to complete its work for the year, Republican Gov. Paul LePage proposed a bill that would have immediately disbursed millions of dollars to nursing homes, which have been underfunded in recent years.
The budget-writing Appropriations Committee worked throughout the night on the last day of session, and was on the verge of passing an amended version of LePage’s bill that would have had the support of both parties. But LePage said he’d veto anything other than his original bill, causing the committee to vote unanimously to kill the bill and go home, rather than engage in a last-minute back-and-forth with the governor.
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau of Winterport sent a letter Tuesday to Alfond and Eves, urging them to reconvene the Legislature to take up LePage’s bill.
Earlier in the day, Alfond and Eves had sent a notice to every lawmaker, saying they did not expect to come back until after elections in November.
“We submit to you that as long as Maine’s elderly population is in danger of losing their homes, along with the security they have earned and rely upon, our work is not done,” the Republican leaders wrote.
Rick Erb, chief executive officer of the Maine Health Care Association — an organization that represents 101 nursing homes in Maine — has said funding is not adequate.
“It is well documented that Maine under-reimburses its nursing homes by over $22 million per year already, threatening their viability,” Erb told reporters recently. “We believe this to be penny wise and pound foolish.”
Eves told reporters Wednesday that several Democrat-led efforts throughout the session already allocated money to the state’s nursing homes. Those efforts will yield $38 million in state and federal funds through the summer of 2017 — with $16 million of that money beginning to flow in July, while the rest will begin to be disbursed a year later.
Democratic leaders also said they would consider additional measures to put more money toward nursing homes in the next session.
Fredette and Thibodeau said the state can’t wait that long. They cited unnamed state officials, saying some of the homes would be forced to close their doors. “Time is not on our side,” they wrote.
Eves said the Republicans were simply playing politics with the governor’s bill.
“This effort by Republican leaders is nothing more than the governor pushing his 11th-hour proposal after sitting on the sidelines while lawmakers were hard at work,” Eves said in a written statement.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.