CONTRIBUTORS

Let’s be proactive: Keep aging Mainers at home, independent

Posted Aug. 26, 2014, at 10:49 a.m.
Rep. John Schneck, D-Bangor
Contributed photo
Rep. John Schneck, D-Bangor

Each day, 50 more Mainers turn 65 years old. A quarter of our population is projected to be 65 or older by 2030.

We are the oldest state in the nation, and we’re getting older.

With this demographic reality comes a number of serious challenges to the pursuit of a secure retirement. Financially, many of our seniors find it increasingly difficult to manage housing costs, such as property taxes and energy bills, on fixed incomes. Too often, it is not possible for older Mainers to access the in-home support and other resources they need to remain safely and happily independent.

We need to take a proactive approach and address the challenges faced by aging Mainers. The next Legislature will have a critically important opportunity to take action on the issues that matter to seniors.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, worked with the Maine Council on Aging to bring together stakeholders with a range of backgrounds to the Maine Summit on Aging. Earlier this week, he announced the KeepME Home initiative, a package of policy proposals that address key concerns highlighted during the summit by helping older Mainers live independently and with financial security.

KeepME Home includes measures to provide targeted property tax relief, invest in home-care options and increase access to affordable housing. These proposals have broad support among seniors and their advocates.

This past session, I co-sponsored legislation that bolsters the Property Tax Fairness Credit for low- to middle-income families and seniors. KeepME Home goes a step further, calling for an increase in the maximum refund for seniors under the program. At a time when the pressure of rising property taxes puts many retirees in danger of losing their homes, this will make a direct, positive impact on their financial security.

Keeping Mainers at home as they age means ensuring an adequate system of support exists to provide the day-to-day care they need. Direct care workers provide this care by helping with tasks, from personal hygiene and meal preparation to health maintenance and medication management.

We know that in-home support by direct care workers is a smart solution. It allows our aging neighbors to maintain a level of independence while preventing unnecessary emergency room visits, hospitalizations and institutionalization in nursing homes. Supporting access to in-home care is a smart, cost-effective investment.

Unfortunately, direct care agencies are struggling to maintain the workforce they need to meet current demand — let alone future demand as the population continues to age. Direct care workers’ wages have been stagnant for nearly a decade, making recruitment and retention of qualified professionals difficult as waiting lists for their services grow.

KeepME Home will boost Medicaid reimbursement rates for direct care, encouraging better access to these services for aging Mainers and putting money in the pockets of their hardworking caregivers.

To maintain independence, older Mainers also require access to housing that meets their needs. Thousands of seniors in our state are on waiting lists for affordable housing. Our housing stock is among the oldest in the country, which presents a variety of problems for Maine’s seniors. It is often unaffordable and inefficient, difficult to access and remote from important resources.

Without smart investment now, the gap between the needs of Mainers and our existing infrastructure will continue to grow and become even more urgent. Through an innovative senior housing bond, the KeepME Home initiative will support the creation of accessible, energy-efficient housing throughout the state while spurring work opportunities for the state’s construction, architectural and engineering sectors.

The proposals in the KeepME Home initiative provide a strong foundation in an effort to prevent an unnecessary crisis down the road by taking proactive steps to benefit our aging neighbors and all of Maine. It’s up to the next Legislature to take bold action to improve our future by making wise decisions in the present.

Rep. John Schneck, a Democrat, is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives and represents part of Bangor. He is a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.

 

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