House speaker to pitch congressional delegates KeepME Home initiative to help older Mainers live at home

 Lee Picker (right) smiles after speaking at a news conference in Brunswick, where Maine House Speaker Mark Eves announced a series of proposals designed to build more affordable housing for seniors and otherwise help them remain in their homes as they age in this August 2014 file photo.
Lee Picker (right) smiles after speaking at a news conference in Brunswick, where Maine House Speaker Mark Eves announced a series of proposals designed to build more affordable housing for seniors and otherwise help them remain in their homes as they age in this August 2014 file photo. Buy Photo
Posted Sept. 03, 2014, at 6 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 03, 2014, at 7:32 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — About three weeks after unveiling a list of proposals meant to help Maine’s older residents age gracefully in their own homes, House Speaker Mark Eves is headed to Washington, D.C., to enlist the support of the state’s congressional delegation.

Eves, a North Berwick Democrat, will head to the Beltway on Monday and is scheduled to meet Tuesday with U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, both Democrats, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King.

The goal, Eves said, is to identify potential sources of funding for his nascent proposals, which are still being refined, and to win the support of each member of Maine’s delegation, regardless of party or lack thereof.

“It may get harder as we go along, but it’s a goal of mine to make sure this does not become a partisan battle,” Eves said Wednesday. “This really is something we can do. We can all agree.”

The slate of three proposals — which Eves dubbed the “KeepME Home initiative” — includes a $65 million bond to build 1,000 energy-efficient apartments for elderly Mainers in 40 sites in all 16 counties; an increase to the state’s Property Tax Fairness Credit for older homeowners; and an increased Medicaid reimbursement rate for home health care workers.

All three proposals are aimed at helping older residents stay independent for as long as possible. Eves has made seniors’ issues a hallmark of his two-year term as speaker. Maine is the oldest state in the nation. One in four Mainers will be over the age of 65 by 2030, according to census projections.

The proposals are being hammered out in detail so they can be ready for consideration by the Legislature in January. Like many new initiatives, though, there’s going to be a cost — and how to pay for Eves’ bills will undoubtedly be a subject of debate.

That’s one of the reasons he’s headed to D.C. Potential federal funding could go a long way in smoothing the road ahead for the bills in the Legislature this winter and spring. Eves hopes that buy-in from the congressional delegation will include their help in identifying that funding.

Getting Collins’ support is of particular interest to Eves, as she is the ranking Republican on the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Eves will be joined in D.C. by several others involved in crafting the policy agenda to serve aging Mainers, including Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging; Jeff Hecker, provost at University of Maine; and Steve Pound, associate director at the Cianbro Institute, the contracting giant’s workforce development arm.

Comments received Wednesday from Maine’s delegation indicated preliminary support for Eves’ proposals, even in the absence of concrete solutions to questions about funding or state-federal cooperation.

“Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country, and ensuring our seniors are able to live – and thrive – in their retirement is crucial,” said Scott Ogden, King’s spokesman, in an email.

Michaud’s office said the congressman and gubernatorial candidate has been in contact with Eves already, and he has liked what he’s heard so far.

“Speaker Eves is right to shine a spotlight on the need to create a sound and supportive infrastructure for Maine’s seniors — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it has enormous economic consequences for our state,” Michaud said Wednesday.

Pingree said the initiatives could “really make Maine a leader in helping people stay in their homes as they age, and it’s something I want to share with my colleagues.”

Collins’ spokesman, Kevin Kelley, said the senator was looking forward to meeting with Eves, “to learn more about his specific proposals,” and that Collins — in her role as ranking member of the Senate’s aging committee — was focused on health care, housing, long-term care, elder fraud and other issues important seniors.

It’s yet to be seen whether Eves will gain the bipartisan support he hopes his trip to Washington will elicit. Several individual Republican lawmakers took part in his roundtable meetings, and House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport has said he similarly hopes “political rhetoric won’t get in the way of real accomplishment.”

But the official line from the Maine Republican Party was decidedly less kumbaya. Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett blasted Eves and Democrats in August for proposing that the state borrow money to pay for new apartments for older residents.

“Democratic politicians are so out of touch that the only ideas they have revolve around borrowing money — $65 million in added debt, in this case. Maine seniors aren’t asking for handouts,” he said. “They just want government to keep its promises — something that becomes harder when government goes too far in debt.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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