Seniors, care workers, family members of Mainers with disabilities and campaign volunteers gathered at the State House in Augusta today to announce that they have hit their signature goal and are submitting more than 67,000 signatures to Maine’s Secretary of State to place a citizen initiative on the November ballot guaranteeing access to in-home care.
"We all know the problem. In our rapidly-aging state, too many seniors are being forced from their homes and too many people with disabilities can't get the care they need," said Miri Lyons of Boothbay Harbor, a former homecare worker and a family caregiver for a child with a disability. "Homecare for all will fix that. It's a guarantee that if you need help staying in your home, you can get it."
Hundreds of volunteers have been gathering signatures for the measure across the state at polling places, post offices, coffee shops and parking lots over the last several months, often braving freezing temperatures to connect with more than ten percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last election for governor. 61,123 valid signatures are required to place a citizen initiative on the ballot.
"You might think that veterans would already be covered for homecare, but for too many vets that's not the case," said Skip Worcester, a U.S. Army veteran from Hermon. "Veterans who need long-term help are frequently sent to facilities, often far away from their families. That's just wrong. The least we can do is make sure those who fought for our country can live with freedom and independence in their own homes."
In addition to guaranteeing home care is available for any senior or Mainer with a disability who needs assistance with an activity of daily living, regardless of their family situation or income level, the ballot measure also includes measures to assist family caregivers and make homecare a more attractive career, including higher wages and greater professionalization.
"I work full time and make eleven dollars and fifty cents an hour. Starting pay at my company is minimum wage. I rely on food stamps and Section Eight to keep my son fed and housed," said Maddie Hart, a home care worker from Auburn. "My work is challenging, dangerous, and skilled. Homecare workers deserve to be paid enough to support our families. This referendum will help get us there."
Additional care guaranteed by the measure is paid for by partially closing a payroll and unearned income tax loophole on income in excess of $127,000 a year.
Once signatures are validated by the office of Maine’s Secretary of State, the initiative will go before the legislature, where they may choose to adopt it as law or send it to a public vote.
"I will always be grateful to the caregivers who helped me to care for my mother in the last years of her life," said Bonnie Laughlin, a senior from Limington who helped to gather signatures for the initiative. "We need more caregivers and more options for Maine seniors to get their care at home. I like so many things about this homecare bill."