Maine House Speaker Unveils Plan for Helping Seniors Age at Home

Aug 20, 2014

Maine House Speaker Mark Eves unveils his "KeepMe Home" plan.
Credit A.J. Higgins / MPBN

AUGUSTA, Maine - House Speaker Mark Eves says the state must do more to ensure that senior citizens can remain in their homes as they age. To that end, he rolled out his so-called "KeepMe Home" initiative today, which would send a $65 million bond package to the voters for the construction of new housing units, among other things.

Every day, about 50 Mainers turn 65. And Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves says their living options for the distant future are, at best, uncertain. But what many of them really want, Eves says, is what is own 91-year-old father wants.

"As I've traveled across the state, I've heard the same message from seniors that I've heard from my Dad," Eves said. "They want to age in place. They want a more secure retirement."

Fixed incomes that looked pretty good 30 years ago are not keeping up with the rising cost of fuel, food and housing, and Eves says the next Legislature must take action. He told reporters gathered at the Creekside Village adult housing center in Brunswick that he will advance a three-pronged initiative in the next legislative session crafted to help seniors live out their final years in their homes.

The plan is built around a $65 million bond proposal for the construction of 1,000 new apartment units for seniors that would be built in 40 different communities across the state. Eves would also increase the Property Tax Fairness Credit fund that would provide tax reductions for seniors. And Eves wants to encourage more Mainers to provide in-home and personal care services for older adults by increasing current salaries for those jobs.

The speaker says the next Legislature can't act too quickly to provide assistance to Maine seniors - many of whom are on housing waiting lists. "Maine's population is aging rapidly," Eves said. "The demographic reality is a challenge that we can change into an opportunity by ensuring our seniors can live independently in their homes and communities. The policies outlined above will help our seniors, their families and our economy by investing in jobs and workers."

"So many of us struggle to remain independent and age in place in our homes and communities," says 75-year-old Lee Picker of Sabattus. Picker says she moved back to Maine six years ago to be closer to her daughter and family. Since then, she's been involved in the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension Service Senior Companion Program that provides outreach services to older Mainers.

Picker says the challenges Eves describes are real and pervasive. "As property taxes rise and the cost of heating oil rises, some people are forced to choose between paying taxes, or putting food on the table or paying for their medicine."

Seniors advocates say all three of Eves' objectives are important, but that available housing and tax credits aren't as critical as the need for in-home health care workers. "There is no question that the direct-care work force issue is the most urgent need," says Jessica Maurer, the executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the co-chair of the Maine Council on Aging.

Maurer says minimum wage isn't enough to attract or retain the number of workers necessary to serve the needs of aging Mainers. Maurer says Eves' plan to improve the workers' salaries hinges on a reimbursement rate increase under Medicaid, the program that pays health care provider agencies for delivering those services. She says the state Department of Health and Human Services is already considering the costs of the plan.

"I believe that the Department of Health and Human Services is going to start a provider rate study to be ready in December, when we're going to start seriously talking about what's the fiscal note, the implication of this," Maurer says, "to be looking at what's the need? What's the demand? What's an appropriate rate to be paying and how can we make that work?"

Eves says his proposal has bipartisan support. House Republican leader Ken Fredette says GOP lawmakers are committed to developing policies that benefit Maine's most needy families, and will avoid political rhetoric that gets in the way of those goals.