Maine seniors want to age in their homes and communities, where they can live independently with dignity. As I’ve traveled across the state, I’ve heard the same message from older adults and their families: the financial struggles they face are making it harder and harder to have a secure retirement.
State leaders can make a difference. For nearly a year, I’ve been working with aging experts and community leaders across the state on a plan to do so. Fortunately, support for the plan is growing each day.
Our “KeepME Home” plan would create 1,000 units of affordable housing for seniors in each of Maine’s 16 counties through a $65 million housing bond. It would also boost pay for in-home care workers who have not had a raise in nearly a decade and expand property tax credits for seniors. These proposals will jumpstart a larger effort to transform aging policies in our state to help Maine seniors age in place.
Maine is the oldest state in the nation. Each day 50 people turn 65. In just 15 years, one in four Mainers will be over the age of 65.
The aging challenges we face are significant — and personal for all of us. Whether you are a parent with an aging family member or a grandparent struggling to stay in the home or community where you raised your family, so many Mainers are personally affected.
As property taxes or the price of oil rises, seniors have to choose between putting food on the table or paying for medicine. Many are also concerned about our family caregivers, who might have to stop working or juggle schedules to help with care.
In my hometown of North Berwick, I’ve had the privilege to get to know Pat Seavey, a long-time North Berwick resident and senior, over the years while serving our community in the Legislature. Her son lives far away and isn’t around to help. Like so many Maine seniors, Pat is struggling to keep up. Some days dinner for Pat is a can of tuna fish and mashed potatoes.
Pat has worked hard her whole life. She’s given back to the community. But in her retirement, she’s faced financial struggles. With rising property taxes, high heating bills, a drafty house and the cost of medicine, she worries that she won’t be able to afford to stay in her home for another winter.
Pat is not alone. Lee Picker, 75 of Sabattus, who joined me in announcing the KeepMEHome plan, shared similar stories from her volunteer work as a senior companion at Clover Health Care in Auburn. She said, like herself, the seniors she helps on a daily basis are struggling with rising property taxes, affordable housing and access to direct in-home care.
Stories like these have been the driving force behind the KeepME Home plan. Thousands of Maine seniors are currently on waitlists for affordable housing and direct care services. Many will be getting their property tax bills soon just as they need to fill up the tank ahead of a cold winter.
Since we announced our plan, we’ve held a tele-town hall with nearly 2,000 participants, including many direct care workers who have seen their pay frozen or cut for nearly a decade. If we want a qualified workforce to care for our seniors, we need to make sure workers can make a fair wage. One direct care worker who spoke, Helen Hanson, told a story about barely surviving on $20,000 per year.
We need to do right not just by our seniors but by those who who care for them as well.
I was honored to take the stories from Lee, Pat and Helen to Washington with me to brief our congressional delegation about our plans. Their support for our effort to spotlight aging challenges in our state was strong. Maine is fortunate to have members of Congress who are so committed to our seniors. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree and Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins are co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would help bolster our proposal for an affordable housing bond by maximizing affordable housing tax credits for seniors.
Maine has an opportunity to lead the nation on aging issues because we have the oldest population. If you have ideas or would like to share feedback on our plan, please call my office at 207-287-1300 or email me at RepMark.Eves@legislature.maine.gov.
Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is speaker of the Maine House.